Museums for health and wellbeing: A collaborative project between the Assam Museum and ONCOCARE (Namrata Sarmah, India, ITP 2018)
Written by Namrata Sarmah, Project Curator, Assam State Museum, Guwahati, (ITP 2018, India)
The Assam State Museum is one of the leading cultural institutions in Northeast India in the field of managing local tangible and intangible heritage. However, nowadays, the scope of cultural institutions has expanded much beyond their primary focus, culture and heritage. Museums have moved their resources and expertise towards responsible and inclusive social commitments. With that noble vision, the Assam State Museum has agreed to collaborate with ONCOCARE to conduct awareness programmes for cancer survivors and patients, health care providers and the general public. ONCOCARE is a Guwahati-based trust assisting individuals with cancer. The museum is the first government institution in Northeast India collaborating with medical professionals to develop a support mechanism for those bravely fighting cancer.
Cancer is one of the most serious diseases that may affect an individual. An immense amount of bravery, inner strength and resilience are required to fight it. For this reason, the patients need a strong support network consisting of family, friends and society. Based on trust and compassion, different groups of society must join hands to facilitate an empowering environment for cancer survivors and those fighting against the disease. In collaboration with ONCOCARE, Assam State Museum has come forward to nurture such an environment.
Throughout my professional career, I have come across various museum practices from many museums across the globe. In the 21st century, the museums’ gaze has undergone a paradigm shift. The focus of today’s museums is no longer on lifeless objects, but individuals and their place in society. Physical health and emotional well-being are one of the key aspects of the modus operandi of new museums in this increasingly turbulent world. Thus, western museums have developed some innovative strategies to engage with the public. A core issue they have grappled with is loneliness and depression in the elderly. During my visit to the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland, I witnessed how that issue was addressed by encouraging senior citizens to visit museums, interact with the art collections and make new friends in the museum settings. When I joined the Assam State Museum, I was eager to follow the best of these practices, catering to the specific needs of the individuals and societies in Assam.
I was fortunate to become a part of the collaboration between the museum and ONCOCARE. The primary focus of this project is to craft a safe space, where individuals with cancer can engage in activities that will be beneficial to their emotional well-being and intellectual stimulation. The Assam State Museum provides its own space for museum-based support groups, art and craft-based therapy sessions, and awareness programmes. Besides, the entrance fees have been waived for cancer patients. A constructive exposure and dialogue with the collections of art and artifacts are expected to make a positive contribution to the well-being of the cancer patients, who often experience immense emotional stress and isolation.
On the premises of the Assam State Museum, ONCOCARE organised a series of sessions and events based on art and music therapy, museum tours, conversations and consultations by experienced medical professionals. The outcome of this collaboration was overwhelmingly positive. The project helped to build a unique support network of cancer patients, healthcare providers and museum professionals. It also gave hope not only to the patients but also to their caregivers. Through diverse activities, they were able to develop new emotional bonds and skills and create fresh memories. These activities, based on an exploration of nature and art, were tailored to suit individuals from diverse age groups, genders and cultural backgrounds.
The programme also reached out to individuals fighting dementia and their caregivers. Based on these encouraging results, the Assam State Museum looks forward to devising further inclusive projects and making meaningful contributions to society.