Musée Oldmasters Museum in Brussels (photo by Mihai Surdu via Unsplash)

Mental health professionals in Brussels are taking a holistic approach to managing stress, depression, and anxiety in their patients with the offer of a free visit to museums and other cultural attractions. In what is billed as a first-of-its-kind initiative in Europe, psychiatrists at Brugmann Hospital will be able to write a “museum prescription” that encourages patients and their friends and family to visit one or more of Brussels’ cultural institutions — including the Fashion and Lace Museum, the Sewer Museum, the costume menagerie Manneken-Pis’s Wardrobe, and the contemporary art space CENTRALE. The initiative, which touches off this month, is a six-month pilot program to evaluate the impact of such institutions on mental health and well-being.

“Anything could have therapeutic value if it helps people get a good feeling and get in touch with themselves,” Dr. Johan Newell, a psychiatrist at Brugmann University Hospital, told the Guardian.

In a 2021 interview, Brussels Alderwoman of Culture and Tourism Delphine Houba emphasized the dual purpose of the program as a prop for mental health and a tool for broader public re-engagement with arts and culture.

“I want everybody back in our cultural institutions,” Houba said. “We know that, even before Covid, for some people it [was] not easy to open the door of a museum, they don’t feel at ease, they don’t think that it’s for them. And I really want to show that cultural venues are for everybody.”

This is just the latest in a number of studies and initiatives that make a straight-line correlation between mental health and the experience of art, such as a similar 2018 “art prescription” program implemented in Quebec. A recent study in North Wales explored and affirmed the efficacy of creative engagement with museum visits in addressing mental distress. And earlier this summer, research from the University of Pennsylvania examined art museums as “institutions for human flourishing.”

“Art museums have great potential to positively impact people, including reducing their stress, enhancing positive emotional experiences, and helping people to feel less lonely and more connected,” researcher Katherine Cotter of UPenn told Hyperallergic.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....