In These Times explores the complex mysteries of life through art

This season of In These Times explores how words, music and other media throughout history have helped humanity cope with, connect with and process trauma and heal.

Image: Marina Mun

Episode 6, “Music and Meaning,” explores how song and dance have been the pulse of social movements around the world and a source of collective and individual healing through difficult times for millennia. Ethnomusicologist Carol Muller discusses the importance of music in her native South Africa during the apartheid era, and Nicolas Escobar talks about his process of composing music for films as well as OMNIYA podcast.

In Episode 7, “The Restorative Power of Art,” researchers from the Center for Positive Psychology discuss how visiting an art museum and participating in museum programming influence outcomes related to thriving.

The pandemic has a marked impact on mental health. Participating in activities that benefit well-being is crucial, but Katherine Cotter and James Pavelski, experts in the field of positive psychology, say that realizing these benefits and optimizing participation is the ultimate goal.

Episode 6 Highlights:

12:01 p.m.: [Nicholas Escobar] The result of the first season is very different from the result of the second season. I recorded a lot of things for this season. I remember all these different sounds, all these different instruments. I was kind of throwing everything in there and then going back and layering everything so that it still sounded like a measured thing even though there was so much in there. And I’m sure that was drawn from the George Floyd protests and the rioting and kind of that sense in the country where there was just this kind of anger that was just under the surface, and it was really starting to almost explode in a way.

23:36: [Carol Muller] I studied a course in South African jazz as an undergraduate. We had almost no materials except what the professor himself had gone and collected. But we knew there were musicians living in exile and we could listen. We had in our library, the music library at UKZN, the records of many of the musicians who lived in exile and who were banned in South Africa. We could listen to them as long as we wrote on a piece of paper for the government every song we listened to. So we listened. Chris Ballantyne was the man doing the job. And he had provided us with some tapes. There were tapes of the music he had collected.

And one weekend I was listening to the music of [South African artist] Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim. And I read all his stuff about his conversion to Islam. It was the most, I had never heard music like that before. And I was in a music program that taught European music. I didn’t connect. I love Bach and Beethoven, but I don’t feel like it’s my music. You know what I mean? And it was, I think a lot of people feel that kind of void of not being connected. And I listened to Abdullah and probably because it had all the church hymns in the background, all I knew. There was some way I was deeply connected to him.

Episode 7 Highlights:

8:29 a.m.: [Katherine Cotter] First we started by reviewing what we already know and found that visiting art museums is good for mental health, we will feel calmer, less anxious, less depressed, less stressed after visiting, we find these experiences enjoyable. Our emotions are favored. We feel more positive after these visits as well.

And something that was really interesting is that these are great spaces to find human connection. So now in the work we do, we’re both looking at things from the perspective of art museum professionals themselves. So how do they think about wellbeing in their institutions? Because they are fundamental to this, because they are the ones who prepare and bring together the visitor experiences, and also to see where the gaps are.

15:43: [James Pawelski] I think cultural organizations, largely through the pandemic, have begun to recognize even more this function of their contribution and service to the public. So I don’t think it’s strange for art museum curators or various art museum professionals to say that well-being is actually something that we should take seriously. In fact, that’s one of the studies we’ve done is to survey art museum professionals themselves to see what their attitudes are about the relationship between art, museums and well-being. And one of the things we asked them was, “What do you think art museums do well? And what do you think art museums should be doing more of? And then we looked at the gaps in their responses and the area where there was the biggest gap between what they identified as what art museums were doing well and what they needed to do more of was welfare.

Listen to the podcasts in full at OMNIYA.

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