Awards to six UK museums and galleries are part of a groundbreaking programme to see how museums can create new civic spaces to help society transition to a high well-being, more sustainable world.

Six commissioned works have been inspired by principles set out in the paper, The Happy Museum – a Tale of How it Turned Out Alright, co-written by the New Economics Foundation and leading museum commentators.  Its concluding ?manifesto for well-being’ argues that museums have innate qualities which can inspire a re-imagining of a society which values co-operation and stewardship of our surroundings as much as it does economic well-being.

The Happy Museum, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, awards £60,000 to an ambitious programme exploring a connection to the natural world, mental ?wellness’ (rather than illness); museums as a place of healing; museums as a place of story and play;  working with the homeless; stewardship of local communities and strong local partnerships.

The awards will go to:

?  Manchester Museum for The Playful Museum

?  Lightbox in Woking, Surrey for Landscapes of The Mind,

?  The Cinema Museum, London for Creative Community Curators,

?  London Transport Museum for The Conversation Hub,

?  Godalming Museum for Collecting Connections

?  The Story Museum, Oxford for Happy From the Beginning

Tony Butler, Director of The Museum of East Anglian Life and Director of the Happy Museum says:

?We now have the ingredients for putting the Happy Museum into practice. We recognise many museums already appreciate their position in their community and many combine this with scholarship, stewardship, learning and a desire for greater participation. What the Happy Museum Project is trying to do is to show that the context is now different. Environmental change, pressures on the planet’s finite resources and awareness that a good, happy society need not set economic growth as it most meaningful measure offers a chance to re-imagine the purpose of the museums. Museums should realise their role as connector, viewing people not as audiences but as collaborators, not as beneficiaries but citizens and stewards who nurture and pass on knowledge to their friends and neighbours.?

The commissions were chosen by a panel that included Sam Thompson, new economics foundation; Maurice Davies, Deputy Director Museums Association; Tony Butler, Director The Happy Museum; Kate Brindley, Director MIMA and Paul Hamlyn Advisor and Mandy Barnett MBAssociates; Hilary Jennings and Lucy Neal OBE.

Robert Dufton, Director of Paul Hamlyn Foundation says:

?These new commissions explore how the principles of happiness and well-being can leave a legacy of cultural change within the museum and galleries’ organisations or communities. Museums offer spaces to consider the past, and through that to understand our lives today, and help shape our future. The Happy Museum proposes a way for them to serve our communities by helping them to become more resilient for the future.?

The Happy Museum scheme attracted over 40 applications demonstrating the readiness of the UK museum sector to respond to challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future with a focus on well-being and social change.

The awardees will form a community of practice stimulated by a series of activities taking place between 2011-13, including a 2 day symposium in January 2012 which will introduce commissioned projects and leading thinkers from museums to people with a psychology and social policy background developing work around subjective well-being along with climate scientists, environmentalists and energy specialists.

The six commissioned projects and reports from the Symposium will be disseminated via the Happy Museum website, connecting people interested in this radical approach to re-imagining the purpose of museums.  The project concludes with a Conference in January 2013 which ?rounds up’ the commissioned projects,  establishing a way forward to further embed principles of happiness within the sector.

Further Details of Happy Museum Awards:


The Playful Museum,  Manchester Museum (£8,925) Can museums be a physical place of undirected free play and challenge ideas about children’s behaviour?  Playful Museum Days help staff promote and explore playful behaviour in the museum to enhance well-being and happiness of children and families.  “Only when we understand the nature of play will we be able to understand how to better shape the destinies of human societies in a mutually dependent world, the future of our species, and perhaps even the fate of the biosphere itself’.  Gordon Burghardt Children’s Right To Play.

Landscapes of The Mind, The Lightbox in Woking, Surrey (£17,000) explores the museum as a healing environment.  A group of participants with mental health problems will take control of every aspect of their own 15-month project. This will culminate in their curating an exhibition, a combination of major 20th Century landscapes chosen from The Ingram Collection, and their own artistic responses to those works.

Creative Community Curators, The Cinema Museum (£6575), based in The Lambeth Workhouse (once home to Charlie Chaplin) invites local people to explore the museum’s international collection of cinema memorabilia to become ?community curators’.  ?Everyone who comes here loves it’ says Martin Humphries, director,  ?And it’s because of that love we’re still here. We can reward our fantastic volunteers for their commitment and reach out to our local community in Elephant and Castle so they can tell us how to curate.’

The Conversation Hub, London Transport Museum (£14,500) in partnership with homeless charity St Mungo’s bridges the divide between the museum space and vulnerable adults on their doorstep.  The Conversation Hub creates a social enterprise to engage individuals as Happy Museum volunteers on visible, valued museum community projects, contributing to the social, cultural and economic vitality of the area – and a more integrated local community.

Collecting Connections,  Godalming Museum (£7,000)

The 1921 community museum tells the story of the town and surrounding villages.  Local initiatives active in the field of sustainability and community building are engaged to look at past ways of life and current ideas and hopes for a sustainable way of living,  including Transition Town Godalming, allotment holders and a new local Hydro electricity project.  Connections are made to new ideas, a new public and to new knowledge and skills.

Happy From the Beginning,  The Story Museum, Oxford (£6,000)

Principles of a Happy Museum and well-being are test-driven by programmers, designers and architects involved in the design phase of this large-scale capital project in the heart of Oxford – a new international museum exploring the importance of story for human culture.  Due for opening in 2014 a Well-Being Advisory Group supports this early phase. Many stories end ?happily ever after’. Oxford’s emerging Story Museum plans to begin that way.

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