Lowe Art Museum’s Art of Mindfulness virtually combines painting and mindful exercises

“A Clearing in June” by Charles H. Davis was the object of focus for the session.
“A Clearing in June” by Charles H. Davis was the object of focus for the session. Photo credit: Kris Berg

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Lowe Art Museum’s Art of Mindfulness event is held weekly on Zoom.

This past week, the attendees of the event focused their attention on the oil painting “A Clearing in June” by Charles H. Davis. The free event lasts an hour, and features a guided mindfulness exercise with a focus on a painting from the museum’s collection.

Participants completed calming breathing exercises and used the painting’s idyllic pastoral landscape to ground themselves in the present instead of focusing on outside stressors. The event’s leader, museum educator and Art of Mindfulness co-founder Hope Torrents, read aloud the poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.

The idea for the Art of Mindfulness, according to Torrents, arose in 2015, when she and fellow Lowe education department faculty member Jodi Sypher contacted UM Law professor Scott Rogers about leading mindfulness sessions at the museum.

After a few years of success brought by the program led by Rogers, the museum also hired Alice Lash, a meditation instructor and mindfulness coach who owns Mindfultime in South Miami.

The program’s initial success inspired Torrents and Sypher to consider modifying it to fit its unique museum setting.

“We wanted to also bring the works of art in the Lowe’s collection into the practice,” Sypher said. Currently, Lash leads a general mindfulness session once per month, and Sypher, Torrents, or Rogers lead an art-focused session the rest of the time.

The program, according to both Sypher and Torrents, is unique due to its focus on art as well as the degree of audience participation that it elicits.

“It’s just using art as the focus of attention, instead of the grass or sounds or the multitude of other objects that people use,” Torrents said.

“What’s unique about our program is that we are doing it live, and we give time for the virtual community to reflect together and ask questions,” Sypher said.

Attendees were asked to type their reactions to the art and poetry used in the sessions using the Zoom meeting’s chat feature.

Like most other programs at the Lowe, the Art of Mindfulness went virtual in 2020 after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the transition to virtual sessions has actually expanded the amount and variety of attendees.

“When we would have it in person we’d have a maximum of twelve people,” Torrents said. “When we started doing it in 2020, at one point we had 70 people.”

Tuesday’s session saw attendees from Miami, New York and Milwaukee, but Torrents said that the program has expanded its reach beyond the United States alone.

“We’ve had people from Brazil, we’ve had people from Europe,” Torrents said. “We even had somebody from Ghana.”

When asked about why the program appeals to such a wide variety of people, Sypher believes that it is a combination of the accessibility of a virtual guided mediation and the sense of togetherness the program brings to attendees.

“People really appreciate being able to be in a community and practice mindfulness, especially the accessibility of it being online,” Sypher said.

Despite the program’s popularity, the museum is always looking to expand attendance, especially from the UM student body, which the program’s organizers believe is underrepresented.

“We’d like to get more students involved,” Torrents said. “The time at 1:00 EDT might not be ideal for students.”

“We would love to have more students come,” Sypher echoed.

Currently, the museum is looking for ways to increase the program’s reach within the student body, including changing the time during which it is held. However, until a consensus is reached regarding what time would be the most convenient for students, the program will remain at 1 p.m. on Tuesday’s.