With the rise of art therapy, French museums are beginning to take mental health seriously

The Palais de Tokyo in Paris will conclude its 20th anniversary celebrations this year with the inauguration in December of a new “care center”, a place for programs promoting art as a powerful source of well-being.

The 700m² pavilion will soon be built on the ground floor, designed by Freaks Architects, and is called HAMO, pronounced the same as the French word for hamlet. For Tanguy Pelletier, director of public programs at the museum of contemporary art, it will be “a transformation room, a tool to better welcome visitors from all walks of life, people with disabilities or from [community groups]even when there are no exhibits in the building”.

Funded in part by arts patron Jonathan KS Choi, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Sunwah Group, HAMO will have three main spaces. The “positive lounge” will host meetings between psychiatrists, art therapists, educators and other professionals. Then come three modular and rotating structures, whose walls can serve as television screens or blackboards depending on the scheduled activity. A spiral staircase and an elevator will lead to a mezzanine designed as a laboratory with 3D printers and other technologies. The pavilion will have space to offer four to six public workshops simultaneously.

Children at the Palais de Tokyo: the HAMO installation builds on the museum’s past solidarity projects with local communities Courtesy of the Palais de Tokyo.

Initiated in late 2018, the million-euro project will have a strong focus on mental health and builds on the museum’s previous partnerships with medical and social organisations. It also draws inspiration from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ art therapy workshop, established in 2016. But Pelletier says the Palais de Tokyo has learned “a lot more” from its collaborations with local partners such as the charity France Alzheimer and the largest hospital in Paris, La Salpêtrière.

HAMO is the first art and well-being space to be built in a cultural place in France, even if the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille was the first to take an interest in the field: it is the only French museum with a full-time art therapist on staff. The Lille program began in 2012 as a way to support autistic staff members, says Juliette Barthélémy, head of the museum’s public programming department. Art therapist Pascaline Bonnave “was such an asset to our team that we hired her a year later”.

At the same time, the Louvre-Lens recently teamed up with two art therapists from the association L’Art&Fact to launch Louvre-therapy, a series of collective workshops based on the idea that the museum experience itself can have beneficial effects on health. “If only we could convince doctors to prescribe visits to the Louvre-Lens like any other treatment,” says Gunilla Lapointe, the cultural mediator in charge of the program, who notes that such devices already exist in Canada and Belgium. .

James C. Tibbs