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In Sickness and in Health: Museum Programming for People with Life-Threatening Illness

Thesis by Anna Bennett (2015)

Experiencing a serious illness can cause physical, social, and psychological suffering for both patients and their families. Some museums offer programming for people with life-threatening illness; these programs include art-making workshops, support groups and even live video from animal enclosures. This paper addresses the question “How, with whom, and why are museums offering programming for people with life-threatening illness?”

To address this question, I interviewed six museum professionals involved with these programs and whose institutions appeared in the 2013 American Alliance of Museums publication Museums on Call. Those interviews suggested that a variety of institution types are involved in this work. They fund their programs in a wide range of ways and consider the programs mission-fulfilling. Each program in this study included a partnership with a geographically close health care institution. The most common intended outcomes were fun and distraction along with empowerment and often some type of knowledge related to the museum’s disciplinary focus. The interviewees were all able to identify ways in which these programs advanced their mission and their visibility within the community. All programs valued evaluation although not all programs were able to evaluate their programs. The museum professionals included in this study connected personally and emotionally with the programs and their participants.

Keywords: programs, adults, health, research, museum partnership, therapeutic


Bennett, A. H. (2015). In sickness and in health: Museum programming for people with life-threatening illness (Order No. 1600364). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1732390333). Retrieved from