6 March 2018




A recent trend in museum exhibition and programming has been to try to foster empathy for others, like we saw in Sadie's exhibition review for BAND Gallery and Cultural Centre. With the global political climate as it is, now more than ever we must promote understanding and compassion to our fellow humans. Since museums are in a unique position to educate our publics, many are trying to find ways to educate visitors on empathy with varying levels of success. Creating a truly affective impact is easier said than done, and museums will need to go beyond a simple object + label display. 

But what does learning empathy look like?  Source.
How can museums really foster empathetic development at an emotional level, rather than just a cognitive one? How do you innovate with a fundamental human process like empathy?

Once I found the Museum of Empathy and their innovative pop-up style project, "A Mile in My Shoes," I knew my questions had been answered. Operating out of a larger-than-life shoebox, the Museum of Empathy gives visitors the chance to listen to an incredibly diverse array of emotional narratives while walking in that same person's shoes. Literally. 

"Through a series of participatory arts projects with a focus on storytelling and dialogue, it explores how empathy can not only transform our personal relationships, but also help tackle global challenges such as prejudice, conflict and inequality."

The most recent physical iteration was hosted at the Migrant Museum in London, and brought in new stories of refugees and migrants. But in case you can't make it out to England—or wherever they next pop up—they have a handful of their stories posted on their website, available for anyone to listen. These stories range from love and hope, to grief and unimaginable pain. 

Listen to the joy of a florist as she delights in her community, in connecting with her customers who might be a bit shy, as she expresses a true love for her life and her work. 

Listen to the experiences of a man living with Achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder causing dwarfism, and the discrimination he has faced his entire life paralleled with the support he has received from his family and friends. 

Listen to the cracking voice of a mother whose daughter was murdered recount her memories of the worst time in her life, only to conclude that she was able to open her heart to empathy—even towards the woman who killed her daughter. 

"I choose not live my life in hatred." 

The participants in "Walk a Mile" have revealed themselves at their most vulnerable, allowing the solitary listener to emotionally connect with the storyteller—all while walking in the same shoes.

Boasting over 150 shoes and stories, and over 10,000 visitors since its first opening in September 2015, their strategies have clearly been successful. Source.

Now with the proven effectiveness of participatory programming with personalized stories, the model of "A Mile in My Shoes" may pave a future for emotional education in museums. As they say, if the shoe fits...

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