Museums have a real opportunity to imagine a positive future where we might consume less, be more mindful of our relationship with a natural environment, and create a kinder, gentler but no less interesting world. — Tony Butler
Imagine a museum with its own resident comedian. Or a museum pharmacy that writes out prescriptions for happiness. These programs, as well as others that use museums as sites to promote happiness and well-being, are part of the United Kingdom’s Happy Museum Project, funded by the Arts Council of England and spearheaded by social history curator, Tony Butler. On September 29, 2016, University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program hosted Tony Butler for a packed lecture and reception. The event was co-sponsored by SFSU, JFKU and Palo Alto Arts Center.
Tony directs the Derby Museums in Central England, noted for the Joseph Wright Institute as well as preserving a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is the oldest industrial factory in the world. He oversees the £17m redevelopment of the Silk Mill as Derby’s Museum of Making. In 2011 Tony founded the Happy Museum Project to create an international community of practice to empower museums to contribute to a more just society. It has supported twenty-two UK museums to develop projects which build mutual relationships with audiences and “steward the future as well as the past.”
As Vincent Sulit (MA, 2017), who introduced the event, stated: “Tony’s infectious passion and enthusiasm for museums. His crowd-sourced initiatives, rooted in human-centered design, are refreshing. Looking at new ways to increase public engagement in museums is something we should all consider as museum professionals.”
Tony demonstrated this enthusiasm by describing in detail the six principles that underlie the Happy Museum Project:
- Create Conditions for Well-Being
- Pursue Mutual Relationships
- Learn for Resilience
- Value the Environment
- Be an Active Citizen, and
- Measure what Matters
One principle stood out to USF Museum Studies student Georgina Dasoura (MA, 2017): “If you treasure it, measure it with social impact.” That means, in Georgina’s words, “valuing and encouraging happiness and emotional investment in museums as well as the hidden value of family outcomes.” To illustrate this point, Tony shared a story of bringing his daughter, who was having one of those especially cranky days that all teenagers experience once and awhile to the Paper Apothecary at the Beaney House in Cantebury. The “pharmacists” at the Apothecary listened to her woes and then gave her a custom-made “prescription” of activities she could do in the museum to find happiness in the museum. One was that instead of venting her frustrations to her parents, she should have a conversation with one of the paintings in the museum. And lo and behold, it worked! To learn more about the Happy Museum’s projects, click here.
For more information on University of San Francisco’s museum studies program, click here.