Musings from ‘Landscapes of the Mind’ at The Lightbox, Woking

Our arts work with the group of people with mental health problems is progressing well. Everyone seems to be enjoying it and ‘in the best sense’ profiting from it. We had a discussion last week about wellbeing and one of the participants gave a rather good quote (they weren’t his words, he said, but he couldn’t remember where he had heard them): ‘Success doesn’t lead to happiness; happiness leads to success.’ I rather liked that.

I held a forum with all the staff a few weeks ago. First I asked them, in groups, to list how they thought society measured success. The answers were mostly about things such as GDP, international standing, strength of armed forces, standards of education and avoidance of poverty. Then I asked them how we as individuals measured our personal success. The answers overlapped with the first set to a surprising degree, much of it to do with personal income and status; as one person said, ‘It tends to all come down to money,’ though strength of family and friendship ties were also mentioned. Finally I asked them how they thought The Lightbox ought to measure its success. Essentially, with the exception of one group which had the Director in it, the measurements were of footfall, financial stability, ability to mount exhibitions and ability to reach every sector of the community.  Just that one group came close to mentioning wellbeing. At the next session I will be trying to pull the answers to these three questions together, in a way that may point a way forward.  Should be interesting.

And then a few days ago I gave a presentation on The Happy Museum to the Devon Museums Forum in Torquay. In fact they even used the title The Happy Museum as the theme for the day, so things must be getting into the air. My presentation seemed to go down well, and many of those present seemed quite wowed by the approach in these hard financial times. They could see the importance of wellbeing both as an aim and a measure. They were also very receptive to the low-carbon message. However, some seemed not entirely convinced about the link between the two. I stressed that it was important that we as a society started to see success in terms that were not limited to finance or growth, and this was accepted, as was the link between growth, consumption and environmental damage. So the connection between thinking in terms of wellbeing and reduction of environmental damage was broadly accepted. However, there were still questions about the link between our actual activities as museums or galleries and the low carbon agenda. It seemed that almost all the projects within The Happy Museum fulfilled the wellbeing criteria very well, but that the connection between that and the low-carbon agenda was in terms of raising awareness  or, if you like ‘conceptual’ rather than making a difference to what we actually do, even within the Happy Museum.  I’m still thinking about this. Meanwhile I’d like to hear others’ views on this.

Rib Davis, Happy Museum Commission at The Lightbox

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