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Museums with a recipe: Brussels tests cultural visits to treat anxiety | Belgium

A tour of ancient sewers? An encounter with a lace masterpiece from the 16th century? These are two of the therapies offered to people in Brussels suffering from depression, stress or anxiety.

Starting this month, psychiatrists at one of the city’s largest hospitals can offer patients “museum recipes”, a free visit with a few friends or relatives to discover one or more cultural institutions in Brussels.

Delphine Houba, Brussels deputy mayor in charge of culture, believes the project is the first of its kind in Europe. The first objective is to strengthen access to culture after the pressing days of confinement, she explained to the Observer. “I want everyone to return to our cultural institutions… but we know that, even before Covid, for some people it is [was] It’s not easy to open the door of a museum, they don’t feel comfortable, they don’t think it’s for them. And I really want to show that cultural spaces are for everyone.”

The second goal, he said, is to give doctors “a new tool in the healing process.” The young socialist politician was inspired by a similar project in Canada, where doctors have issued prescriptions to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts since 2018.

In Brussels, the pilot project is running for six months and involves five museums that are directly under the control of the city authorities. These include the city’s history museum, a contemporary art center and the fashion and lace museum.

Patients can also discover the sewer museum, which allows them to walk 10 meters underground along the banks of the Senne, Brussels’ hidden river, much of it paved in the 19th century. Or they could explore the collection of outfits belonging to the Manneken Pis, the statue of a urinating boy that has become a symbol of Belgium’s self-deprecating humor.

The bronze cherub figure has nearly 1,100 costumes, including one from King Louis XV of France from 1747 to make amends for the statue’s theft by his soldiers, and a gift from the Rolling Stones, emblazoned with the tongue logo of the band, who made their first appearance. appeared in July.

“Anything could have therapeutic value if it helps people feel good and get in touch with themselves,” said Dr. Johan Newell, a psychiatrist at Brugmann University Hospital, who is involved in the pilot program.

The Museum of the City of Brussels. Photographer: Arterra Picture Library/Alamy

He hopes the museum’s recipes will be tailored to people suffering from depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, psychosis and bipolar disorder. “I think almost anyone could benefit from it,” he said. “It would probably be more suitable for people who are already a little further along in the recovery process,” rather than those who are seriously ill, he said.

The museum’s recipes, Newell emphasized, were a voluntary addition to medication, psychotherapy, individual or group therapy, as well as exercise, healthy eating and other forms of relaxation.

“It’s just an additional tool that could help people get out of the house — resocialize, reconnect with society.”

A revision by the World Health Organization in 2019 concluded that the arts could help people with mental illness and urged greater collaboration between culture and public health professionals.

If the pilot is successful, the scheme could be opened up to include other museums, cinemas, hospitals and patient groups. People recovering from brain injuries, as well as the elderly and children, might also benefit, Newell suggested.

Houba, who chaired the Brugmann hospital board before his election in 2019, said the one-page prescription was designed to be as simple as possible. People “won’t have a guide or something special because we don’t want them to be stigmatized or feel different.”

Patients would discuss their before and after visit with their doctor, who would check “what the experience was like for them, what they liked, what they didn’t like,” Newell said. As well as an opportunity to reconnect with society, she also sees an opportunity to quietly reflect away from the hustle and bustle of life. “Our society is so, so busy, so full of stress and stimulation,” she said. A museum recipe gives people a “chance to settle down for a bit.”

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