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Montreal museum partners with doctors to 'prescribe' art

A woman views contemporary pop art is on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsImage copyright
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Could these paintings make you feel better?

Montreal physicians will soon have a new possible prescription for their patients: fine art.

A doctors’ organisation and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) are partnering to allow physicians to write prescriptions for free museum visits.

The initiative is being billed as the first of its kind in the world.

The museum says patients will be able to have a “relaxing, revitalizing experience, a moment of respite” browsing their collection.

The project launches 1 November.

Physicians members of Médecins francophones du Canada will be able to register, in the initial phase of the project, to issue up to 50 prescriptions for a visit to MMFA collections and exhibitions as a compliment to more traditional treatment options.

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Autumn on the banks of the Oise at the Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts

Nathalie Bondil, the museum’s director general, is behind the initiative and believes that cultural experiences will soon be recognised, like physical activity currently, for their health benefits.

She told the BBC that the “neutral, beautiful, inspiring space” of a museum can boost mood, improve wellbeing, and give patients a chance to explore experiences and senses outside of their illness.

Ms Bondil hopes if the initiative is a success it will be picked up by museums around the world.

“We can open new doors, not just for the patients, but also for the doctors,” she said.

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In a statement, Dr Hélène Boyer, with the Médecins francophones du Canada, said there is a growing body of research that suggests contact with art has a positive impact on people’s health.

“I am confident that my patients will be delighted to visit the museum to ease their suffering, without any side effects,” she said.

Doctors can prescribe the visits to help address both the physical and mental ailments of their patients.

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Contemporary pop art on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The museum also offers art therapy programmes, recently hired an in-house art therapist, and is participating in clinical studies looking at the impact of museum visits on people with various mental and physical health problems, from eating disorders to breast cancer.

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The idea that “art is good medicine”, as the Montreal museum claims, is gaining traction around the world.

In 2017, the h All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the UK produced a report stating that “the time has come to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to our health and wellbeing”.

The report suggested there are demonstrable benefits to using art in various ways for health, from incorporating art into hospitals to getting patients involved in arts programmes.

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