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Why Going To The Gallery Is My Secret Self-Care Weapon

The museum first became a safe haven for my mental wellbeing when I was a kid. I remember having to follow my grandad’s slow pace as I held his hand, patiently walking along, looking at artwork after artwork. I learned how to concentrate on one single piece at a time; to be present and block out everything else around me. Since then, it has become my go-to place to relax, a familiar space of tranquillity where I can be inspired and find comfort from the often overwhelming world that we live in. And it’s in these moments that I’m especially grateful for having the Art Fund’s National Art Pass - giving me that push to get out of the house and in front of some art.
For some, going to galleries might not be instantly obvious for its mental wellbeing benefits, unlike exercising or having a good night’s sleep. In Calm and Collected, a 2018 report commissioned by Art Fund, a charity that supports museums and galleries in the UK, only 6% of respondents said they regularly visit museums or galleries. I go to the gallery alone when I need to de-stress and disconnect for a few hours. I put my phone on airplane mode — sometimes even leaving it in the cloakroom lockers — and I walk at my own pace through each room, lingering in front of every artwork for a few seconds, or for some minutes if I’m especially intrigued. Each artwork becomes more grounding than the last as I slowly become more focused on what’s in front of me, trying to absorb even the most minute of details.
Over the summer, I visited the Isaac Julien: What Freedom Is to Me exhibition at Tate Britain, where each room screened a film, with varying lengths from 10 to 50 minutes. I was transfixed by each one, sitting in the darkened rooms and enjoying how Julien weaved together different cuts and sounds. I knew it was an exhibition that I had to visit again if I wanted to enjoy each film without having to rush; if it wasn’t for the National Art Pass, which offered me 50% off my ticket, I probably wouldn’t have treated myself to a second trip to the same exhibition.
Art Fund’s Calm and Collected report also revealed that visiting museums can bring people together — and for me, when I need the comfort of others, I go and see art exhibitions with friends. The gallery becomes a space for us to not only share opinions about what’s in front of us, but also to catch up and connect. I still smile at the memory of going to the V&A in 2022 to see the Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear exhibition with a close friend. Thanks to having the Plus One option of the National Art Pass, I could offer her a discounted ticket, too. As we roamed through the rooms enjoying the extravagant outfits, she caught me up on what she did the previous week, from work gossip to the dates she had been on. It almost felt as if we were window shopping in a mall: One of us would interject with, “Oh, I like that one!” when looking at a 1996 Jean Paul Gaultier trompe l’oeil Greek god torso blazer, or Alessandro Michele’s Gucci ballgown skirt made for Harry Styles in 2020. I love how going to a museum can be a fun social activity, too (definitely better than doing a HIIT class together at 7 a.m.).
Now that we find ourselves in the depths of winter, with some lingering post-holiday blues and many short days ahead, we need to be kind to ourselves and do the things that might make winter a little better for our mental wellbeing. The National Art Pass is the little nudge I need to leave the winter grey and step into the calming and colourful beauty of the art gallery.
Exhibitions I’m excited to visit with my National Art Pass to fight the winter blues:
Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990 at Tate Britain, London (now until 7 April; £8.50 with National Art Pass)
Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at the Barbican, London (from 13 February to 26 May; £8.00 with National Art Pass)
The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure at the National Portrait Gallery, London (from 22 February to 19 May; £8.00 with National Art Pass) 
Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style at Museum of London Docklands, London (now until 14 April; £6.50 with National Art Pass)
David Hockney: Love Life at Charleston in Firle (now until 14 April, £5.00 with National Art Pass) and Charleston House Visit, East Sussex (£12.50 with National Art Pass)
Saul Leiter: An Unfinished World at MK Gallery, Milton Keyes (from 17 February to 4 June; £5.75 with National Art Pass) 
Nengi Omuku: The Dance of People and the Natural World at Hastings Contemporary, Hastings (now until 3 March; £4.50 with National Art Pass)
Bad Bridget at Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh (now until 2025; free with National Art Pass)
Lee Miller: Dressed at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton (now until 18 February; free with National Art Pass)
Changing Times: The 1920s at Blandford Fashion Museum, Blandford Forum (from 13 February to 30 November; £3.00 with National Art Pass)
The National Art Pass gives free or reduced-price entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places, plus 50% off major exhibitions. You can get your National Art Pass here.

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