Brussels doctors prescribe museum visits to treat Covid-19 stress

Research “has proven that art can be beneficial for health, both mental and physical,” the city’s head of culture tells a Belgian newspaper

A new initiative sees doctors in Brussels prescribing museum visits to fight stress © Ricardo Gomez Angel

Patients suffering from stress in Brussels may find themselves under doctors’ orders to visit museums in a three-month pilot project inspired by a similar programme in Canada.

Delpine Houba, the city’s head of culture and tourism, devised the project in partnership with the Brugmann Hospital in Brussels, according to an article in the Belgian newspaper L’Echo. Doctors at the Brugmann can prescribe museum visits to individual patients and the hospital’s stress clinic will also organise collective visits for in-patients receiving therapeutic treatment, the newspaper said.

Delphine Houba

The five museums taking part in the pilot project are the Brussels City Museum, the Fashion and Lace Museum, the Sewer Museum, the Garderobe Manneken-Pis and the Centrale museum for contemporary art, Houba told L’Echo.

Treatments for mental health are particularly relevant during the coronavirus pandemic, Houba said, adding that research “has proven that art can be beneficial for health, both mental and physical.” The project will be evaluated at the end of 2021 and extended to other Belgian museums willing to cooperate if deemed successful, she said.

Houba said she was inspired by a pioneering project at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Since 2018, participating doctors have been able to prescribe up to 50 free museum visits a year to their patients, offering “a safe, welcoming place, a relaxing, revitalizing experience, a moment of respite, and an opportunity to strengthen ties with loved ones,” according to the museum’s website.

The MMFA, which describes itself as “a real research laboratory for measuring the impact of art on health,” extended its project in July this year to offer digital museum access to health professionals engaged in the fight against the pandemic.

“After an extremely overwhelming year for all health professionals, it was important for us to offer a little art and beauty to those who have contributed to the well-being of the population and who need a chance to catch their breath,” said Mélanie Deveault, the director of education and wellness at the MMFA.