• Susan Ward

Moments of Museum Awe

"Psychologists say [awe] can play an important role in bolstering happiness, health and our social interactions — and it may have actually long played a role in how and why humans get along and ultimately cooperate with one another." (DiGiulio, Sarah. "Why scientists say experiencing awe can help you live your best life." NBC News.) Museums, historic houses, parks, and gardens looking to build mental wellness within their communities might help visitors feel a sense of awe.

Awe and wonder is all around, if we only pay attention!
Awesome winter sunset! Awe improves mental health!

Awe jumps to mind with certain cultural organizations such as the US. Arboretum (huge, amazing diversity of plants and trees), the National Museum of Korea (my favorite museum in the world!), or the Victoria and Albert Museum (was my favorite museum in the world until I visited the Korean National Museum!). For other smaller museums and historic sites, staff might need to work harder to determine what might generate a sense of awe in their visitors.

What is awe-inspiring at your museum?

Do you have an incredible miniature painting that most visitors miss? Perhaps you could highlight it with new and different signage Maybe tour guides could bring more attention to it. Does your site have an unbelievable view that only a few visitors notice? When your new brochure is produced, could this view be highlighted? Does your historic house have tiny stone carvings that tend to be overlooked? Add information about these to your next docent training so docents can point out the carvings. What about an awe-inspiring story? Was there someone connected to your museum who overcame challenges or who achieved local fame? Find new ways to tell the stories of these amazing people.

Paintings, sculpture, architecture, flowers, landscapes, vistas, and stories can all be awe-inspiring. What are you going to find at your museum when you look with new eyes?


You might try this...

MUSEUM STAFF: Ask all staff to spend one week looking for awe-inspiring aspects of your site. Share them at a staff meeting. Focus on one of those and spend time creating ways to focus visitor attention on it. You might just be improving your visitors' mental wellness!

MUSEUM VISITORS: At your next museum or historic site visit, search for an awe-inspiring detail, or view, or piece of art. Spend a few quiet moments appreciating it and admiring it. It just might take you away from the stress of your life for a few minutes!