On Monday 13 June, Anna Jamieson chaired an event titled “Curating Mental Health” for the Centre for Museum Cultures, featuring curator Clare Barlow (Science Museum) and research lead Michaela Ross (Bethlem Gallery). Key topics of discussion included the ethical and practical dilemmas that curators working in the field of the medical humanities and “mental health” face, and what other issues are at stake within these types of displays.
Clare Barlow talked about her work on the Wellcome Collection’s Being Human exhibition, which opened in 2019. First considering the various contested definitions of “mental health”, Barlow described the intensive consultation process with stakeholders, and the tensions between the medical gaze and the social model of disability, the latter proving an important curatorial framework. Also important to Barlow’s curatorial practice was creating an “emotional arc” for the visitor, providing quiet and reflective moments where visitors could feel held and secure. Michaela Ross discussed her work as research lead at Bethlem Gallery. She drew upon her close personal ties with several artists and service-users, building upon Barlow’s discussion of the importance of trust when working with artists in exhibitions of this nature. She raised issues of care within the curatorial process, for artist, visitor and staff member alike.