Art unquestionably provides food for thought, but can it truly be sustaining? The Museum of the White Mountain’s (MWM) recent exhibit, NOURISH? Arts Address Mind, Spirit, and Body, made the case that art benefits many aspects of our health by drawing out our emotions.
The arts can have regenerative powers, and those who have suffered testify to its ability to nurture beyond the potentials of standard treatments. In his artist’s statement, Gunnar Baldwin, Jr. discussed the cancers that sidelined his art for many years, and his joyous Mountain Jam illustrated his re-embrace of painting “to express the healing properties of music.” Mimi White’s verse, That Which Approaches Infinity, told the story of her husband’s cancer and eventual demise, sharing her belief that “poems can nourish the soul, that of the maker and the reader.”
“Inspiring responses is at the core of art and art making,” said MWM Director Cynthia Cutting, who designed the exhibit. This was the first “Open Call” for the museum, and it brought together creative work from all over New Hampshire and New England that illustrated art’s power to provide personal sanctuaries, life-giving inspiration, and physical therapy while simultaneously providing experiences that can connect us to each other.
Less momentous challenges found expression in works that contrasted the drive for stability versus impulsivity, or urban versus rural sensibilities. The exhibit’s spectrum of emotions included humor (the tutu-wearing bird of Paulette Brace’s Flamingo Lake reminded visitors to enjoy life), and Annette Mitchell’s Hungry for Color quilt enlivened New Hampshire’s monochromatic winter with bold colors and textures.
The exhibit design broke up the museum’s main gallery with lots of seating and defined zones to give visitors time to muse and not feel rushed, and also continued an MWM trend of encouraging active involvement. NOURISH? visitors could paint a peace tile in the museum’s Open Lab, vote on each display item’s impact with emoji stickers, and respond to prompts that asked: “What artwork nourished you today and how did it affect you?”
“The interactive aspect is considered best practices more and more in museums everywhere,” said Cutting. “The era of people just looking at art as observers is perhaps past. People want things to do and ways to connect and it is important to build those opportunities into the exhibit.”
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, and so it was with meaning derived and depth experienced by NOURISH’s visitors. The exhibit, a required field trip for several classes, represented their first museum exposure for some first-year students. Students at the other end of their collegiate journey also found much to relate to. A statement by artist Julia Mosso that addressed her uncertainty resonated with a soon-to-be graduate, who now follows Mosso on Instagram.
Inspirational quotes from the likes of Florence Nightingale, physicians and psychologists, and health journals and associations were sprinkled throughout the gallery. The exhibit also featured a display of mental health brochures and contact numbers.
“NOURISH? had a question mark because the arts can’t fix everything,” said Cutting. “It always has to be a quest, and we wanted to make sure that we provided some resources for those seeking information.”
In January, the museum hosted a panel discussion on how the arts can help address and treat illness and support well-being. Attendees reflected on communicating difficult topics via storytelling, music’s strength as a healing modality, and combating social isolation through the arts in a time of addiction, disease, and epidemics.
A related exhibit, Expressive Harmonies: Art and Society, was on view at the Silver Center for the Arts and included work from northern New Hampshire’s high school, college, and community education students.