Sculpting Wellness and Well-Being for the Community –

Posted: October 19, 2021 at 9:50 pm

Hamilton, New JerseyGrounds For Sculpture is following a path of health and wellness that is both unique and beneficial for residents of the mid New Jersey region. As part of an extended initiative to make Grounds For Sculpture more accessible and inviting to a wider array of visitors, guests, and museum members, the sculpture park is working hand-in-hand with local leaders and artists to further develop its wellness programming, and is doing so through a thoughtful process incorporating ideas from the public and from groups who may have been excluded in the past.

Grounds For Sculpture welcomes, surprises, and engages visitors in its 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Opened to the public in 1992, it is one of the premier cultural destinations in New Jersey, and has embraced and enchanted over three million visitors. Traditionally, tourists travel from places like New York City, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia to see and experience the immense collection of larger-than-life outdoor sculptures and indoor beguiling art installations and exhibits. However, after a deep review of who is benefitting from the museum's offerings, the administration and the board felt they could do more to reach out and work with residents throughout New Jersey.

During a recent strategic planning process, the organization developed a long-term vision that set its aspirations "to be a leader, magnet and vibrant forum that invites a diverse public to create, learn, and discover personal meaning in their interactions with art, nature and one another." Their new strategic plan identifies impact, relevance, and capacity as their key strategic priorities.

Over the summer, part of this vision was actualized when Gary Schneider, Grounds For Sculpture's Executive Director announced his hiring committee's choice to invite Kathleen Ogilvie Greene to become the organization's first Chief Audience Officer. As an experienced executive with a demonstrated history of creating sustainable institutional impact through program creation, community engagement, and audience development, Kathleen was the perfect match for the work ahead. She will play a critical role in prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and wellness, initiatives across Grounds For Sculpture and the broader arts community.

Kathleen describes herself as an advocate for cultural workers and living artists and is skilled in inclusive programming, intentional partnerships, and nonprofit management. She arrived at Grounds For Sculpture from The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia where Kathleen excelled as a team and systems builder, created and managed a wide range of programs in response to the collection while established fruitful and long-standing partnerships within the greater region of southeast Pennsylvania.

The function of museums is evolving, with many now playing a significant role in the well-being of their community. Grounds For Sculpture engages the premise that the arts, resonating deeply with the human experience, are saturated with the potential to promote healing and wellness, not only in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, but also within the fabric of the region. Wellness-focused programming began at Grounds For Sculpture nearly ten years ago and the museum recognizes that the two elements, art and nature, united on its premises are healing. The sculpture park is in an ideal position to become a cornerstone for wellness in the community. While Grounds For Sculpture has made strides in achieving this goal, the staff and board members alike are in agreement that there is still much work to be done.

Late this summer, during a sunny Saturday afternoon, a convening of invited stakeholders, medical professionals, leaders, artists, staff members, and volunteers, congregated under an outdoor tent to brainstorm wellness programs, each participant sharing ideas from their own perspective and areas of interest. Kathleen stated, "The hope was to end the day with ideas that considered audience, partners, and purpose. We were fortunate to have the Michael Graves Architecture & Design firm lead the process and the group created an amazing range of possibilities! The convening has the potential to expand and deepen our participation in, and creation, of wellness programs throughout the region. It also provides the opportunity to expand our audiences across ability, zip code, economic and racial classification. Broadening our audience, and ensuring our work are beneficial to them is center to this work, as we want to increase our benefit to the community. One of the many goals to deepen our relationship and accountability to the convening attendees. They made an investment in us, by sharing their expertise, and we need to ensure that gift grows. So, another beneficial outcome is this suite of stakeholders who are already looking to us asking 'what are you going to do now?' Moving forward, the goal is to shift all these wonderful possibilities into actionable next steps, ensuring our strategic plan stays central in our decision making."

The recent wellness convening at Grounds For Sculpture generated ideas which ranged in scope from developing an accessible greenhouse to be utilized by communities who have mobility and/or visual impairments as well as the broader community, to providing opportunities for visitors and local residents to enter the grounds for free and participate in Tai Chi, meditation, and/or "Wellness Walks" while enjoying soothing live music provided by local musicians.

Focusing on community engagement and the expansion of wellness initiatives was on the docket for Grounds For Sculpture well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the experience of enduring and then surviving a lockdown further solidified the need to initiate activities, events and programming that pushed the envelope on what is typically offered by similar cultural destinations. According to the United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), "Museums preserve heritage for future generations, promote lifelong learning, provide equal access to culture and spread the values on which humanity is based." Their purpose in terms of inclusion is also critical to help bridge communities and cultures, and museums play a significant role in both the creative and tourism industries. The entire cultural sector was severely affected by the pandemic, and is still experiencing losses, with museums hit particularly hard." On UNESCO's website, it is reported that "90 percent of museums had been closed for an average of 155 days, and since the beginning of 2021, many have had to shut their doors again, due to surging infection rates. This has resulted in a 70 percent drop in attendance on average, and a 40 to 60 percent decline in revenue compared to 2019."

Rising from the COVID pandemic lockdown ashes, Grounds For Sculpture survived being closed for several months and is continuing the process of looking into diversified revenue models as the typical membership and visitor ticket sales paradigm was severely challenged in 2020. In a recent survey of 1,004 museums, "15 percent of museum directors said that there was a 'significant risk' of closing permanently in the next six months or that they were unsure whether they would survive through that period." Fortunately, Grounds For Sculpture's outdoor oasis has visitors, volunteers and staff bouncing backslowly and steadily with increasing attendance. Their goal of intentionally activating the outdoor space to support mental and physical well-being will help the guests to stay connected with each other and with the healing energy of art within nature.

Lucky for all of us living in the mid New Jersey area, residing within easy driving distance of Grounds For Sculpture, we can continue to cherish our hometown cultural jewel and support future programming. To sign up for and receive the organization's newsletter and get up-to-date announcements on events, exhibits, wellness programs, and educational offerings, go to: Grounds For Sculpture Newsletter Link Sign Up. To see a calendar of events, including wellness activities, go to: Grounds For Sculpture Calendar.

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Sculpting Wellness and Well-Being for the Community -

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