The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is redefining what an art museum can and should be.

At an event that attracted everyone from the premier of Quebec to experts in mental health, homelessness, eating disorders and even cardiac-health researchers, MMFA director Nathalie Bondil announced plans to completely reshape the direction of the Montreal institution.

She made the announcement one year ahead of the opening of the new Michel De La Chenelière International Atelier for Education and Art Therapy. It will be part of the new Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace now under construction. 

MBAM

Michel de la Chenelière, Nathalie Bontil and Premier Philippe Couillard at the MBAM's announcement. (Submitted by Pierre Longtin)

The museum has been able to devote more space and attention to art therapy and education as the result of a $5-million dollar donation from educational publisher, Michel de la Chenelière.

"I do not think the Fine Arts Museum should be envisioned as a castle where interpretation belongs to specialists. Art is more powerful and our duty is to invite and enlarge the interpretation."

"I'm convinced that in the 21st century, culture will be as important for health as sport was in the 20th century."

Bondil says neuroscience research indicates that the pleasure of experiencing art has positive effects on the mind. 

Community work

The donated funds have also given the museum enough money to add an extra floor to its new pavilion and that space will be used to develop projects with various university researchers and communities.

One of the partners is the Douglas Institute, where Howard Steiger is chief of the eating disorders program at the Douglas and associate editor of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

"A lot of what we do in contemporary therapy is about helping people stretch into another way of experiencing things. That's very important in helping people manage their strong emotions," Steiger said. "Art therapy fits in beautifully with that more intuitive, spontaneous, less intellectual side of themselves."

The MMFA already hosts projects to combat violence and social exclusion, working with groups such as Dans la rue and the Old Brewery Mission. It welcomes children from low-income families in collaboration with the Breakfast Club of Canada.  

Several university research projects are also being set-up with the MMFA including a pilot project to destigmatize intellectual disabilities and autism and encourage integration into the labour force.

The Quebec minister of culture, Hélène David, calls the project a wonderful example of "the role of culture in society and in the city."