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See Listen Talk: Slow Looking Approaches for Vulnerable Audiences

Slow Looking Approaches for Vulnerable Audiences

Today I’m talking to Cecilie Monrad, Art Health Manager at Frederiksberg Museums in Copenhagen. We’re talking about the See Listen Talk project and a variety of slow looking approaches for vulnerable audiences.

Frederiksberg Museums consist of four very different museums and exhibition venues surrounded by green park areas with collections ranging from contemporary art to cultural heritage. The project See Listen Talk has taken place in all four locations, and slow looking sessions have explored everything from specific works of art to interiors and architecture.

See Listen Talk is a 15-week long programme with weekly meetings taking place outside of museum visiting hours. Participants are young psychiatric users aged 18 to 29. Some were still hospitalised during the course, but were able to attend the museum sessions. The project had a co-therapist attached, who was both the participants’ contact person and motivator.

Listen to today’s episode to hear:

  • insights into the programme’s framework and philosophy, discussing why slow looking was chosen as an approach and how it works in practice.
  • what a typical session might involve and the methods and approaches that are used. 
  • how the programme creates connections within the group and how they create a ‘safe space and brave space’ for the participants through a broad trauma-sensitive framework. 
  • about the feedback the project has received so far and the positive impacts that the programme has had on the participants both inside and outside of the museum.
  • the potential application and expansion of See, Listen, Talk, and  the recent recognition of Cecilie’s work in the intersection of health and culture, including a recent visit to the Parliament for an open hearing.

This research by Kasper Levin at Roskilde University is ongoing and results are anticipated in March 2024. 

Listen to the episode or read the transcript below.


Claire Bown: Hello and welcome to The Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. I’m here to share techniques and tools to help you engage with your audience and bring art, objects and ideas to life. So let’s dive into this week’s show.

Hello and welcome back to The Art Engager podcast. I’m your host, Claire Bown of Thinking Museum, and this is episode 121. Today I’m talking to Cecilie Monrad, Art Health Manager at Frederiksberg Museumsin Copenhagen. We’re talking about the project See, Listen, Talk, a slow looking programme that helps young psychiatric service users in their recovery.

Before that, last time I was talking to Andrew Westover about how values engaged teaching can transform gallery experiences and foster deep connections. We had a great conversation that I know has resonated with a lot of you, so if you haven’t listened already, make sure you do.

And if you have a question for the show or want to suggest a guest, feel free to get in touch.

I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to talk to more educators doing innovative things, engaging with art, objects and audiences in museums and heritage. So get in touch with me via the link in the show notes. And don’t forget that The Art Engager has over 100 episodes to choose from. You can take your pick from the back catalogue of different episodes to brush up on your skills, be inspired and learn new techniques.

So if you want to support this show and keep it going from strength to strength, you can do so by treating me to a cup of tea on buymeacoffee. com forward slash Claire. Bown. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Okay, let’s get on with today’s show. Cecilie Monrad serves as the Art Health Manager at Fredericksburg Museums in Copenhagen.

Her work is dedicated to building inclusive communities that prioritize well being. She specializes in developing programmes using methods like slow looking and shared reading for vulnerable groups, including those with dementia, psychological challenges, stress, anxiety, and depression. Cecilie believes art has transformative power to enhance wellbeing, and she’s committed to making art experiences that are accessible and inclusive for all.

In this chat, we’re exploring what See Listen Talk is and who’s it for. We discuss why slow looking was chosen as an approach for the programme and how it works in practice. We talk about what a typical session might involve and the methods and techniques that are used. We explore how the programmeme creates connections within the group and how they create a safe space and a brave space for the participants in these sessions through a broad trauma sensitive framework.

We talk about the feedback the project has received so far and the positive impacts that the programmeme has had on the participants both inside and outside. of the Museum. We discuss the potential application and expansion of this project and the recent recognition of Cecilie’s work, including a recent visit to Parliament.

This research by the University of Southern Denmark is ongoing and the results are anticipated in March 2024. I love talking to Cecilie about our shared love of slow looking. Here’s our chat.

Hi, Cecilie, and welcome to The Art Engager podcast.

Cecilie Monrad: Hi, and thank you.

It’s nice to be here.

Claire Bown: Delighted you’re here with us. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? Yes,

Cecilie Monrad: I’m Art and Health Manager at Frederiksberg Museum which is situated in Copenhagen Denmark, and consists of four different museums. and I work with all these collections in my line of work with the art and health activities, and together I can use literature, I can use art, I can use music, drama, because all of this is a part of the collections.

I’ve been working here since 2012, making activities for people having a mental diagnosis people suffering from stress ,,anxiety or depression, elderly people, people with dementia, and also people suffering from loneliness,

So I’ve invited you onto the podcast today because I’d love to talk about the SEE LISTEN TALK research project. Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about the project and its goals.

Yeah, the target group was young people with psychiatric illnesses.

And it was a slow looking concept. And it consisted of two 15 week programmes as one in the spring and one in the autumn. And there was also a co therapist joining in and they were participating at the same level as the the young psychiatric users.

So there was no one just observing, everybody was participating. And There was eight participants at the same time, because eight is a very good number for keeping the energy in the room, the conversation flowing, but also, to keep eye contact with everybody, so everybody feels seen and heard.

It was a project in collaboration with the psychiatric care system and

It was not that hard to find participants. But it was a bit harder to keep them because some of them were still hospitalized doing the programme and they were in treatment.

I was told that it was a huge challenge for them to even get out the door in the morning so that they even turned up was a small success. But many of them was consistent throughout the whole programme. So I take that as a compliment.

Claire Bown: Absolutely. And you said that you chose slow looking as an approach for the programme.

So can you tell me a little bit more about what inspired the idea of choosing slow looking?

Cecilie Monrad: Yes back in 2019, I was visiting Manchester Art Gallery and saw the exhibition called ‘Room to Breathe’. I know that you have been talking about this with Louise Thompson

And I was so amazed. It was I was really taken back. You can do that in a museum. And then we had the great lockdown just after that, the global one. And I think one of the good things that came out of that was that everybody noticed the benefits of slowing down.

So You know, that started me thinking about how can you connect these things, and I started my research, and I also owe you a great thanks, Claire, because I had a lot of inspiration from your podcast, but also your website, and both inspiration, but also actual tools that I use.

So no one was really talking about slow looking in Denmark. It was new. Many museums have probably been doing it, but we have not vocalized that this is slow looking. So when we did it, it was something that got attention and then we said let’s research this.

How can you use it to benefit the people that we don’t see normally in the museums?

Claire Bown: So how does see, listen, talk work in practice. Perhaps you could walk us through some of the nuts and bolts of the programme, how long it lasts, when it happens and who was participating.


Cecilie Monrad: The participants as as I said, young psychiatric users between 18 and 29 years old, and We have a weekly meeting at the museums outside the opening hours because then there is peace and quiet for the sessions. And we use all the museums. So sometimes we we will have a focus on one specific artwork.

Sometimes it would be the interior at Bakkehusen, at the Hill House, or sometimes it would maybe be the architecture at Cisternerne. I use different approaches each time because each session is different, but we move around.

At the beginning I was, because I was so inspired by what they were doing at Manchester, I was thinking of starting with a mindfulness grounding, but I found out very fast that this does not work with this target group because Being inside your head in the way that mindfulness approaches very frightening and very hard, if you have psychosis, for example.

Instead we had always the same opening and the same ending at a session. So there’s a structure that they can recognize and feel safe in the structure. And the opening was always a group round where we discussed what have you on your mind, what have you been doing since the last we saw each other, have you been slow looking?

And then the ending was always, so what do you take with you home from today’s experience? And always what is going to happen today, how long it will take, and that you’re always free to leave the room if you need to. And I have the co therapist who can also give back up if There should be anything triggered on that day.

Claire Bown: So you’ve got this trauma- sensitive framework. Exactly. That gives a structure for participants so they know what to expect at the beginning, they know what to expect at the end. Yeah. And they also have This opt out if anything is too sensitive or too emotional.

Cecilie Monrad: Yeah, and alsosometimes we were all sitting in the exhibitions, but some of the paintings around us could be complicated because they could show topics of violence or suicides and things. So I discussed this with the co therapist before we started and how do I work in this atmosphere?

Do I need to change the room? And he said, ‘no let’s go with it because it’s still an art piece. And that’s the whole point that life is not just uncomplicated. It’s full of things that is terrible, but this is art. So let’s see how it works when we have that knowledge and it did not cause any problems at all

So each time, we always started with the exercise in observation. What do you see? The lines, form, shapes, structures and we stayed in this for a very long time. And, always ask them to not be analytic about it. If they had any feelings or thoughts, try to leave them aside. So I use the ground principles of mindfulness, be in the beginner’s mind. What is this about? Just be curious, just see and make observation. And 30 minutes in this, where they don’t speak, I guide them, they just look.

And then I will begin to open up with questions on what thoughts do you have, what feelings do you have? How does it connect with you, or with me, or with the world? As, depending on what we were looking at I have different strategies for each time.

Claire Bown: And so you said you spend 30 minutes in observation.

Cecilie Monrad: Yeah.

Claire Bown: And how did the group find that? So I can imagine that can seem quite a long time to be observing. The first time the group experiences this,

is it difficult for them?

Cecilie Monrad: It was definitely difficult, especially for people having ADHD. So I also gave the option that you could move around, and see the image from different perspectives, so you could use your body.

But it was still a quiet thing. But they always had my voice to help them. They liked that my voice was always there to guide them. And later on the feedback was that it was actually this exercise that they used outside the museum’s room when things were getting difficult in their lives.

So it was a tool that they could use in other situations.

Claire Bown: I love that, using observation as a tool to really cope with other situations, what life may throw up sometimes, to really be present, to be in the moment, rather than racing ahead, thinking about what might happen.

And also those 30 minutes that you spend observing that really then must set the foundation for more interpretive questions. And do you use any particular questioning strategies or approaches?

Cecilie Monrad: I plan the question in advance.

For each of these sessions, I have at least a hour myself being curious about the piece of art that I will facilitate. So I use my own curiosity also to make questions open up for their curiosity. So when we have been observing this artwork for 30 minutes with my Guiding, then they’re always eager to share.

I differ between thoughts and feelings also very sharply and I have a strategy to when to work from ‘ What do you observe?

To ‘what do you see?’ To ‘what do you think?’ To ‘what do you feel?’ And depending on the artwork for some I will use the strategy of see, think, feel and then for some others I will be more into the senses. So imagine if you could be in this picture, what senses do you have them.

Claire Bown: And I can imagine you thinking about your questions perhaps in the same way you think about your choice of artwork. So you mentioned earlier, you said that you were talking with the co therapist about choosing artworks for this programme.

And they said that, go ahead with Your choice, because even though an artwork may bring in certain themes that might be difficult for the people that are on this programme, that’s part of life, that we are navigating difficult emotions and they’re present in our everyday lives. So I wonder, does that have an effect on the questions as well? Are there ever any circumstances where you might avoid certain questions or avoid certain topics of conversations or do you go there?

Cecilie Monrad: No, I go there particularly if someone chooses to share something difficult, then it’s that person’s choice and I leave it open. And then the other participants can comment on that if they want to. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve only experienced one single time that was something that triggered and she just told the co-therapist, can we go outside for a minute?

And then she came back a little later, so it was not a problem, but I don’t avoid things. I don’t choose artworks that has a specific violent topic, but I don’t avoid the topic if it comes up naturally.

Claire Bown: Yeah, I think any artwork, any object can be triggering because we don’t know what people are bringing with them, what experiences or emotions they’re bringing with them into the museum.

So if you follow that line of thought, then it would be very hard to choose any objects for a programme if you were trying to bear that in mind. But obviously it does require that you facilitate with sensitivity. So how do you ensure that you facilitate in such a way so that people feel safe and comfortable to contribute and they are aware that their responses are being acknowledged and valued?

Cecilie Monrad: I think it comes I come, I think it comes naturally in the setting that we are in this special room, that they know that they are invited in here outside closing hours and this experiences for specifically for them only. It’s exclusive in some sort. And then they know that they have the co therapist that they can ask for help if they need to and they have each other and we are only this eight participants. So it is a small group and it’s safe and when the programme progresses, they use each other more and more with sharing the feelings and thoughts and so they use each other also a lot. And one of the point in my session is that, I have this long period of time, in the first half of it where we don’t talk, it’s the ‘meditative’ part, and then we open up for the ‘social’ part. So they have this balance between being a meditative experience and being a social experience.

And the feedback from the participants was that many of them had this experience that they could be in a certain mood when they arrived to the session and a completely different mood at the end because they felt the first half of it was just being calm, and they were guided that they should not do anything except being guided by me, quietly. And then, when you look long enough, and then you want to share it because, Oh, I have discovered this, I have discovered that, and you want to share it with the other.

And when they say something, they build on each other’s comments. I think that worked very well with this framework of being both meditative and social in the same session.

Claire Bown: Yeah, I love the idea of that, that the first half is silent, as you say, it’s meditative but in a trauma safe way so that the artwork is there as perhaps that third space.

Cecilie Monrad: Exactly. They don’t have to look inside themselves.

They can look at the artwork. So if you compare to mindfulness, it’s your breath that is your anchor. But in this session, it’s the artwork that is your anchor. You can always return to the artwork. That is your safe space.

Claire Bown: And the 30 minutes of quiet observation and silence is then paving the way for the social response for the second part. Yeah. And this helps to create that.. You called it a safe space and a brave space. Would you like to talk a little bit about the choice of those two words?

Cecilie Monrad: Yeah, it was actually the co therapist’s word for it. I just thought it summed it all up in a perfect way. You have this room that is peaceful and quiet and and there is a social coherence. And the brave spaces that you enter this exhibition where there can be pieces of artworks with violent topics. For instance when we walked down to Cisternerne and this cold dark place is very different from the outside world.

But what happened was that when we came down there, people actually felt that the room was quite nice because it was so different from the outside world So down here, when there’s no mobile connection and everything is different, it was like entering a completely different world for them.

So they felt that there’s a safe space. And that was surprising for me, but also understandable.

Claire Bown: So I’d love just to hear some of the feedback that you’ve had from participants regarding some of their experiences. You mentioned the transfer, the effect of using observation as transferred over into their kind of daily lives. So perhaps you could share some of the feedback.

Cecilie Monrad: Yeah to some of the session I had also added writing exercises or drawing exercises because the co therapists had said that this would be very good for them and it was very stimulating. And it was probably the most fun sessions we had, but at the same time they also said that the ‘ classical slow looking’ when we just looked and talked, that was most helpful When they were outside the museums, because they found out that these tools that we have repeated every week, that even in the beginning of the programme, it was very difficult for them to let go of the non analytical mind , be non judging about what they saw, but we had rehearsed it so many times, so they started making experiences with it outside the museum room. And there was this participant who said that he had been sitting on a train in the rush hour, and there were so many people, and it was noisy, and he felt very uncomfortable with the situation, but then he had started slow looking at how the train cars was connected. So all the engineering stuff, observing small lines in the train .

 And that helped him being in that situation with all the noise and all the impressions from all the people just focusing on the small details . And there was another person who said she had a very difficult conversation with a social counsellor. And the balance between them was uneven, but then she had started, and it’s her words, slow looking in the room and making observations.

And just this little observation. Slow looking around the room made her compete with a situation in a more even balance between her and the social counsellor.

Claire Bown: That’s so nice to hear. And I know you’re working with you’re pairing with the university, with Kasper (Kasper Levin, Roskilde University)

So what sort of insights are you looking to derive from the research, from analyzing the data?

Cecilie Monrad: Yeah, it’s still in the progress of analyzing the data. But I expect that it will supplement my Observation as well. But I think that his hope is also to discover a more detailed understanding of the specific aesthetic phenomenon of slow looking and how it can play a role in the recovery process for psychiatric patients.

Claire Bown: And when do we expect to see this?

Cecilie Monrad: In March.

Claire Bown: So, March 2024 for those of you listening in the future. We will watch this space, we will find out more once the research is published. We’ll wait excitedly for that. There’s not a huge amount of research in the area of slow looking, so anything that adds to the conversation around the benefits of using this approach with various different groups in various different types of museums and situations, I think is extremely worthwhile.

Yeah. And it’s had a bit of an effect in Denmark as well. I hear that last week, you were invited to parliament to talk about your work at the intersection of health and culture.

Cecilie Monrad: I did. Yes,

yes, because it’s still quite in the beginning in Denmark bringing arts and health together. we have many people that have been working with it for years, but on a political level, it’s still new.

The parliament had this hearing last week with the people at the Department of Culture and the Department of Health coming together for the first time to hear about the same thing from some of us who have been in the field for a long time. And among them it was me talking about my work at the Frederiksberg Museums.

So hopefully that will push forward the progress in this because there’s so much evidence and now with this project there will be even more,

Claire Bown: yeah, it’s wonderful to have recognition by parliament, People really taking an interest in what’s happening in museums at the intersection of art and health.

Cecilie Monrad: There’s lots of amazing work around that happening right now. I want to ask you a final question about what do you see happening with See, Listen, Talk in the future? Yes See, Listen, Talk was a pilot project, and we think it has so much potential that we can’t stop it here. We’re working on a part two project, which will be a national project where we invite other museums from around Denmark. That being both art galleries and cultural heritage museums to make the collections so varied as possible and also not always the huge museums, but also very small museums.

And they will work with, as we have been doing, with slow looking with vulnerable target groups and Kasper will continue his research part on this and hopefully it will end up in a publication or manual how to integrate this into your organization

How can people get in touch with you, find out more about you and the programme? We’ll include some links in the show notes, perhaps you could give some places where people can find you.

Yeah, LinkedIn is probably the easiest way. and I would be happy and flattered if people would contact me because I love to discuss this. I love to get other experiences that I can use into my work and also love experiences I have and make it bigger that way.

Claire Bown: Absolutely.

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Cecilie, for coming on The Art Engager podcast.

Cecilie Monrad Yeah, thank you, Claire. Bye.

Claire Bown: So a huge thank you to Cecilie for being on the podcast today. I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Go to the show notes to find out more about See Lesson Talk and to connect with Cecilie.

And if you’re interested in engaging with art slowly, come and join us in the Slow Looking Club. We have regular themes and regular get togethers, all based around the idea of slowing down and noticing more. I’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s it for this episode, thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time.

Bye. Thank you for listening to the Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website, thinking, and you can also find me on Instagram at Thinking Museum, where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life and engage your audience.

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please share with others and subscribe to the show on your podcast player of choice. Thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you next time.