If you live in Quebec, your doctor just might suggest an unusual course of treatment during your next check-up—a prescription to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The new initiative, said to be the first of its kind, kicks off a one-year pilot program on November 1, and will offer patients and their caregivers or family members free admission to the museum, which typically costs CAN$23 ($17.50).
“We know that art stimulates neural activity,” MMFA director Nathalie Bondil told CBC News. “What we see is that the fact that you are in contact with culture, with art, can really help your well-being.”
Any doctor who is a member of the Médecins francophones du Canada can participate in the program, writing up to 50 museum prescriptions per year, each one good for two adults and up to two children.
The new program is an extension of the MMFA’s existing work in the field of medicine, which in 2017 saw the museum found an Art and Health Committee, chaired by the chief scientist of Quebec, Rémi Quirion. Currently, the institution is involved in 10 art and health-related clinical trials, studying the effects of art on patients suffering from conditions such as eating disorders, breast cancer, epilepsy, mental illness, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“There’s more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health,” said Hélène Boyer, a family medicine doctor and the vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada, to the Montreal Gazette. “People tend to think this is only good for mental-health issues… But that’s not the case. It’s good for patients with diabetes, for patients in palliative care, for people with chronic illness.”
“We secrete hormones when we visit a museum and these hormones are responsible for our well-being,” she added, noting that the increased cortisol and serotonin from looking at art is similar to the effect of exercise. A trip to a museum, therefore, can be a good alternative for elderly or infirm patients who are unable to exercise.
Of course, the art museum therapy might not work for everyone, but unlike prescription medication, at least there are no nasty side effects to worry about. And while a doctor-prescribed art museum visit might seem strange now, the MMFA believes it is on the cutting edge, with such treatment soon to become a widely accepted medical practice.
“Skeptics would do well to recall that just a hundred years ago, sports were believed to distort the body and threaten women’s fertility,” said Bondil in a statement. “I am convinced that in the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century.”
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