Monday, 26 August 2019

A Preconference Conversation with Keynote Presenter Dr. Carol Ryff and Moderator Dick Averns

Dr. Carol D. Ryff will be delivering the opening keynote address, “Bridging the Museum Experience to Well-being and Health,” at the Alberta Museums Association 2019 Conference. In advance of the conference, Dr. Ryff sat down with Dick Averns, artist and engagement coordinator with CARFAC Alberta, for an interview. 


Averns: Thanks for sharing some insight into your work, Carol, on the Conference theme, As a Whole: Well-being, Health, and Museums. So, how does your work and research promote health and well-being, and how do you see museums as relevant?

Ryff: For the last thirty years, my research has addressed three main questions: What is human well-being? How can we measure it? And how does it matter for health? My past research has not explicitly linked museum experiences to health and well-being, although I am an advocate for work in that direction. I’m especially interested in how partaking of museums might impact people’s sense that their lives have meaning, purpose, and direction, as well as their sense that they are experiencing personal growth over time.


So in the future, do you see museums playing an increasing role in the fields of health and well-being?

There is growing scientific evidence to show that encounters with the arts – broadly defined to include visual arts, music, literature, poetry, film, and dance – do contribute to human well-being and facilitate recovery from illness. Great art, for example, can inspire deep reflections about beauty or pain or historical change. Indigenous art is also a form of broadening personal experiences with music, dance, and self-expression.

In general, I subscribe to the philosophy that life-long well-being (including self-knowledge, quality ties to others, purposeful engagement, realization of personal capacities) requires continual learningthe taking in of new sources of information. Museums are a great place for broadening our personal horizons.

How do you envision museums building partnerships or making connections in order to act for the benefit of individual and community well-being?

In Denmark, a country that contributes extensive public support for a wide array of museums, there is emphasis on “evidence-based curating.” Effectively, the government wants more assessment of how museums matter. As an example, some there advocate for “art on prescription,” which encourages older persons to visit local museums, become engaged with museum activities, and use these places as forums for continuing education.

That’s a great example. I wasn’t aware of this in Denmark, although I do know that the UK has been a pioneer in social prescribing. The Kings Fund has a great introduction.

There’s also an organization in the UK, People United, that seeks to promote kindness in community contexts via the arts. Museums can also play a part in such endeavours.

In Philadelphia, the Porch Light Program created community art projects, murals, in run-down neighborhoods. The work involved partnerships between local residents, health and policy officials, and researchers. Their evidence shows that creating these striking murals has enhanced the sense of safety and efficacy in these neighborhoods.

I like this example because it embraces public art and speaks to the possibility of museums taking a lead in initiatives that go beyond their own walls, and considering community art and social practice.

Turning to the AMA conference, Carol, what takeaways would you like attendees to garner from your presentation?

I hope to convey that those who are involved in curating museums are doing more than managing repositories of human culture. They are providing not just opportunities for learning about and engaging in history and the arts, but also possibly playing important roles in how to approach contemporary life challenges.

What is missing to date are more systematic assessments of these wider impacts of museums. This is a field where collaboration and partnerships with researchers studying human health and well-being has important future potential.

Thanks Carol, this is illuminating for sure. I look forward to your session and talking more in person and with our conference delegates.

Likewise. Thanks Dick.


Dr. Carol D. Ryff is the Director of the Institute on Aging and Hilldale Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has investigated how psychological well-being varies by age, educational status, and cultural context, as well as by the challenges and transitions of adult life. Her research considers whether well-being is protective of good health, how some are able to maintain or regain well-being in the face of adversity, and what neurobiology underlies this capacity. Recently, she has become engaged in linking the arts and humanities to well-being and health.

Dr. Ryff’s Keynote Presentation opens the AMA 2019 Conference on Friday, September 20. Dr. Ryff will also hold a Keynote Follow-up session Friday afternoon. For more information about these sessions, please view the 2019 Conference Program.