The MFA Harnesses Art’s Healing Power with Picture of Health

July 19, 2021 | By Cindy Stovall

The New (and Literal) Healing Arts

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A student enjoys time with therapy dog Christie at the MFA, part of the monthly Sit, Stay, Heal program

Though most of us don’t necessarily have the data on the tip of our tongues to back it up, it’s a fair assumption that there is consensus about the positive impact of art in our lives. Studies do in fact show the huge influence arts programming in schools can have on grades, student well-being and achievement – adding to the irony of why arts funding continues to be high on fiscal chopping blocks.

But what about our health? Doesn’t it stand to reason the arts can play a tangible, quantifiable role in bolstering well-being? What would such offerings look like? Can a museum visit become more accessible to all that worry they won’t enjoy it without an art history degree?

These are the questions asked by Margaret Murray, Curator of Public Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg – questions that have led to a breakthrough three-pronged initiative, Picture of Health.

I started really looking into this in 2018,” says Murray. “I was curious about how we could offer programming that made art more accessible while enhancing health and well-being. I began looking at data on the subject and some currents models. We even had some initial ideas when Covid hit,” she says.

That’s when the museum turned its attention not only to innovative virtual programming to keep patrons engaged while staying safe, but to showing gratitude to front line workers when museum operations resumed. “Front-line Workers First Fridays” was the prelude of things to come, offering free admission on the first Friday of each month to front-line heroes, along with garden visits from therapy dogs, accessible to all. That was the beginning.

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“We wanted to expand that concept,” says Murray. “I consulted with art therapists and graduates of UF’s Arts in Medicine curriculum. I wanted whatever programs we developed to be grounded in science and sound medical practice.”

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Picture of Health is three specific programs
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Museum on Prescription – the MFA has partnered with five physicians who will provide literal prescriptions for patients they feel would benefit from a visit to the museum. When these prescriptions are presented, admission is free. 

Mood Tour brochures 

Mood Tours – (I just think this is brilliant.) Six paintings each are assigned to in-person tours geared toward six different categories of “being.”

– Joy & Celebration

– Calm

– Empowerment

– Grief & Resilience

– Self-reflection

– Relationships

These Mood Tours ask museumgoers to answer simple, non-museum-speak questions that can either be written down or merely considered. There are activities or actions that facilitate a new type of visitor-and-art interaction – one that is more immersive, more contemplative, more spiritually activating and more accessible to all. I told you it was brilliant.

“I can’t tell you how many times I walk by the Kehinde Wiley painting (the artist behind the official portrait of President Barack Obama), and see visitors with arms outstretched – just like in the painting. I know they are doing the tour and it is very gratifying.”

You can download the Calm Tour brochure here and the Grief Tour here

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Kerry Kriseman and therapy dog Christie at the MFA

Sit, Stay, Heal – This third leg of the Picture of Health initiative is a direct continuation of Front-line Workers First Fridays. Once a month, therapy and guide dogs are brought into the museum gardens with their handlers to interact with children, and any interested museum guests.

Kerry Kriseman, a native of St. Petersburg and its current first lady, wears one of her many (many) community service hats to be a part of this program with family dog, Christie – a beautiful black Lab.

Ms. Kriseman, whose ‘day job’ is in public relations and community outreach at arts accessibility mainstay Creative Clay, was a natural fit for Sit, Stay, Heal because of the Kriseman family’s long partnership with Southeastern Guide Dogs. “We have always loved and had multiple dogs,” she explains. “I even come from a family who co-founded Kenic Pet Products, (an international company based in Kentucky that began right here in the current Warehouse Arts District. Ms. Kriseman’s brother still runs it). “So, dogs have always been a big part of my life.”

“We first became aware of Southeastern Guide Dogs when the kids were little,” Ms. Kriseman says, reminiscing, “and when our daughter, Jordan, was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah and had to choose a service project, she said, ‘I want to raise a guide dog puppy.’ And so it began. “Our children are now 18 and 23 and we are still involved with SEGD. We actively foster and train dogs, attend meetings twice a month for training tips, showings and other activities. Once you get in it, you really just don’t leave – at least that’s true for many of us ‘repeat-raisers’.

Christie with Mt. Zion Christian Academy students at the MFA during Sit, Stay, Heal

“Christie, who accompanies me to MFA, was one of our dogs in training. She tore her ACL and no longer qualified to be a guide dog. We have adopted her, along with our two other dogs and she has become a fully certified therapy dog – perfect for Sit, Stay, Heal. She really loves the kids.”

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* The next Sit, Stay, Heal session is scheduled for
July 22
from 12-8 pm.
(There will be no sessions for Sit, Stay, Heal in August or November 2021.)

Mood Tours are available during museum hours
and are included with admission.

Find more information at

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