“Art on prescription”: when the blues and anxiety are cured at the museum

MONTPELLIER: Under the high ceiling of the former pharmacy school in Montpellier (south of France), converted into a center for contemporary art, André, Kevin and Ambre work the clay under the watchful eye of an artist. Referred by their psychiatrist, they participate in a pilot program of “art on prescription”.

Of very different ages and life courses, but with episodes of depression or anxiety in common, these three patients, followed by the psychiatric emergency and post-emergency department (Dupup) of the Montpellier University Hospital, were not particularly interested in art so far.

But they nevertheless respected this particular treatment to the letter, for the space of a few weeks.

For the Mo.Co, the city’s contemporary art center, and the university hospital’s psychiatry department, the “conviction” is shared: there is an “urgent need to raise public awareness of the benefits of artistic commitment to mental health”, insists Professor Philippe Courtet, of the University Hospital Center (CHU) of Montpellier.

Unprecedented in France, this project, inspired by experiments carried out in Belgium, Canada or the United Kingdom, has one ambition, “to get patients out of the hospital by prescribing art for them”, adds the professor.

“It liberates, it liberates enormously”, confides with a smile Ambre Castells, a 17-year-old high school student, pouring paraffin into a clay mold: “When I’m here, it’s as if everything that could make me potentially bad start”.

Kevin Gineste, 23, has seen his “natural anxiety subside”. “You can go see psychologists, but the best thing is to do things with my hands, to externalize what I have in me”, he says, delighted to have met “people with the same type problems” and now ready to “go to the museum more often.

Break the isolation

“It’s a workshop around soft, malleable materials, which deform and pass from the solid state to the liquid state, in contact with the hand. Which allows you to soak up the experience”, explains in visual artist Suzy Lelièvre observing it.

By their side, wearing a white apron to avoid getting dirty, André Broussous, 60, is delighted to have this time “improved” his “way of using (his) hands”, after having been initiated into the year to bodily expression, under the aegis of dancer Anne Lopez.

“The choreography gave me the art of fitting into a group, which was not easy at first, as well as greater confidence in the way I express myself, to move myself”, he remembers.

“Mental health disorders, such as depression, lead to social isolation and a lack of self-esteem, which being in a group helps to break”, underlines Philippe Courtet, himself passionate about art. contemporary.

“Here, it is not artists who go to patients, but patients who go to the museum, meet artists and enter their universe”, insists Elodie Michel, another expert in psychiatry from the CHU.

In 2022, this program involved three groups of around ten patients. On the program: one-month artistic journeys, combining visits to exhibitions and artistic practice workshops.

At each session, they were accompanied by a fine arts student and an intern in psychiatry, notably in charge of the scientific evaluation of the project.

Entirely free for participants, “l’art sur prescription” is financed by the Mo.Co, the Regional Health Agency, the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (Drac), as well as the city and metropolitan area of ​​Montpellier, which has within its walls the oldest faculty of medicine in the world still in operation.

“We hope that this program (can) be extended to all and be reimbursed by social security”, pleads the director of Mo.Co, Numa Hambursin, stressing that in Canada treating physicians can already prescribe up to 50 museum visits per year to their patients.

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“Art on prescription”: when the blues and anxiety are cured at the museum