Museums to become ‘happy’, progressive community spaces

New initiative sees six museums across the UK focus on community connections, wellbeing and the future of their neighbourhoods

A £60,000 grant from the Paul Hamlyn Fund is helping six British museums to install community hubs and encourage local connections, sustainability and wellbeing, as part of a new Happy Museum project.

The money will fund a variety of projects connecting museums with the natural world and mental wellbeing, which will enable them to become places of healing, stories, interaction and play. It is hoped that other museums will follow suit.

The project has been inspired by a paper written by the New Economics Foundation (nef) and leading museum commentators. Titled The Happy Museum – a Tale of How it Turned Out Alright, it re-imagines museums in a changing world. The authors concluded that museums are well placed to play an active role in transforming local communities and help wider society on a path towards sustainability and general wellbeing.

Tony Butler, head of the Happy Museum project, believes museums could be much more than they are. “Museums should take the lead in being civil society organisations. The museum is much more than just a place to learn about heritage or to collect objects, it’s for people to connect with their surroundings and with other people.”

As well as the nef paper, Happy Museum has been inspired by the Foresight Project, a governmental advisory group for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, which has devised the Five Ways to Wellbeing report.

The report suggests that material goods are not the key to happiness and that our connections with other human beings are much more important. It lays out five areas that are important to mental health and general wellbeing: social connections, being active, appreciating things around you, being curious and learning, and making a positive impact on others.

The Happy Museum project will be reviewed in 2013. “We’re not just looking at this as a one off event,” says Tony. “The aim is to create a legacy of cultural change within organisations and communities.”

Happy Museum Projects:

The Playful Museum, Manchester Museum (£8,925)

Staff will promote playful behaviour in the museum, to enhance wellbeing and happiness of children and families.

Landscapes of The Mind, The Lightbox in Woking, Surrey (£17,000)

Experiencing the museum as a healing environment, a group of participants with mental health problems will curate an exhibition of landscapes, and will create their own artistic responses to those works.

Creative Community Curators, The Cinema Museum, London (£6,575)

Local people will be invited to explore the museum’s international collection of cinema memorabilia and to become ‘community curators’, deciding how collections should be put together.

The Conversation Hub, London Transport Museum (£14,500)

In partnership with homeless charity St Mungo’s, a social enterprise will be created to engage individuals as Happy Museum volunteers on visible and valued museum community projects.

Collecting Connections, Godalming Museum, Surrey (£7,000)

The 1921 community museum will present hopes for a sustainable future in the area, connecting visitors to the local Transition Town group, allotments and a new local hydro electricity project.

Happy From the Beginning, The Story Museum, Oxford (£6,000)

This is a new international museum, due to open in 2014, which will explore the importance of story for human culture.