Doctors can soon prescribe visits to Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Doctors can soon prescribe visits to Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Art galleries instead of the pharmacy: Montreal doctors to prescribe visits to museum
In the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century, said MMFA director general Nathalie Bondil.

A replica of Alexander Calder's Trois Disques stands outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as part of a retrospective on the sculptor. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

That’s the philosophy behind a new initiative from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which will allow doctors to soon be able to prescribe a visit to a museum.

“There’s more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health,” said Dr. Hélène Boyer, vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada and the head of the family medicine group at the CLSC St-Louis-du-Parc. It increases our level of cortisol and our level of serotonin. We secrete hormones when we visit a museum and these hormones are responsible for our well-being. People tend to think this is only good for mental-health issues. That its for people whore depressed or who have psychological problems. But thats not the case. Its good for patients with diabetes, for patients in palliative care, for people with chronic illness. Since the 80s weve been prescribing exercise for our patients because we know exercise increases exactly the same hormones. But when I have patients whore over 80, its not obvious that I can prescribe exercise for them.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts announced Thursday that as of Nov. 1, physicians who are members of Médecins francophones du Canada will be able to send patients on visits to the MMFA, allowing patients, accompanied by caregivers or family members, to enjoy the health benefits of a free trip to see some art.

Thomas Bastien, director of education and wellness at the Museum of Fine Arts, notes that the museum has been working with the medical community for 20 years to try to use art to help their patients. But this will be the first time that the doctors will be able to make museum prescriptions.

“We saw that the museum was good for people, so we decided to start this program with the doctors,” said Bastien. “If you’re suffering from breast cancer, you could come to the museum and you might feel better.”

There are some anglophone doctors, who work in English and French, who are members of Médecins francophones du Canada.

Doctors in Montreal will soon be writing prescriptions that send patients to the art gallery instead of the pharmacy under a partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Doctors in Montreal will soon be writing prescriptions that send patients to the art gallery instead of the pharmacy under a partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The program, described as a first in Canada, will allow members of a Montreal-based medical association representing francophone physicians to prescribe museum visits.

“Based on a global approach to health, the museum prescription program coincides perfectly with our commitment to recognizing the individuality and humanity of our patients,” said Diane Poirier, an intensive-care physician who is president of Medecins francophones du Canada.

Beginning Nov. 1, association members will be able to issue up to 50 prescriptions granting admission to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for a family of four.

“I am convinced that in the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century,” Nathalie Bondil, the museum’s director general and chief curator, said.

“Cultural experiences will benefit health and wellness, just as engaging in sports contributes to fitness.”

The museum is already involved in 10 clinical trials assessing the impact of art on health. It is looking to help a broad range of patients, including people with eating disorders, breast cancer, epilepsy, mental illness and Alzheimer’s disease.