You don’t think of a museum as a typical space to practice yoga, but between Spelman College’s Wellness Revolution and introducing interdisciplinary programming into the Spelman College Museum of Fine Arts’ educational curriculum, Yoga in the Museum has become one of the gallery’s most innovative and engaging programs.
“It really began as exploring programing that rethinks how you walk through and engage in a museum,” said Makeba Dixon-Hill, curator of education at the Spelman Museum. “When we think about the history of museums, and especially people of color, you have a lot of research that talks about people not feeling comfortable in museums. Of course that means people not coming, but when they come in, they also don’t know what to do.”
Yoga in the Museum strives to combat this museum anxiety. “By small things that we’ve been doing over the past couple years, such as having programs inside of the museum instead of in an auditorium, we are getting people to interface with the environment in different ways,” explained Dixon-Hill.
Launching in the spring 2014, Yoga in the Museum now takes place each Monday from noon until 1 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Yogi regulars include Spelman students, faculty and staff members, students from Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College and members of the surrounding Atlanta community.
Having practiced yoga since her junior year in high school, Greensboro, North Carolina-native Chloe Blackmon, C’2018, attends Yoga in the Museum every Monday and works hard to always bring a friend with her. “I start my week with Yoga in the Museum,” explained Blackmon. “It’s getting myself in the right mind set, a ‘getting calm, I can do this’ state of mind.”
Danita McClain, C’2003, who works as the communications assistant in the Office of Communications, also benefits from the weekly yoga sessions. “I needed to increase my flexibility based on the assessment I received from the Wellness Center,” shared McClain. “I also realized that I needed to alleviate stress, and because yoga is a very good way to alleviate stress while increasing flexibility, I felt like it would be a win-win.”
The fact that yoga is comprised of creative poses often discourages newbies from practicing the Hindu spiritual and mental discipline. “Don’t be intimidated about being a beginner,” encouraged Blackmon. “Everyone starts somewhere. A lot of my friends say, ‘I’m not flexible enough.’ Well, I wasn’t flexible in the beginning either. Just put yourself out there and try it.”
As an expansion of Yoga in the Museum, the Spelman Museum offers the Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teen Girls, a summer camp facilitated by Chelsea Jackson, Ph.D., C’2001, which provides an opportunity for girls in the surrounding areas to be on the Spelman campus and experience an integrated of experience of practicing yoga, exploring literature by women of the African diaspora and making connections with art. This camp was developed from Jackson’s dissertation research and also includes a social justice proponent.
“Within my dissertation research, I started to see yoga as a space of exploration and deliberate concentration on something, and so the girls begin to use their yoga practices as a way to think critically about their experiences in this world as young, Black women,” explained Jackson. “The social justice comes from having space to be able to confront challenges that we come up against everyday as young, Black women, and using [the curriculum] as a tool to transform things in our lives that we want to see changed.”
Yoga in the Museum is simply one of the many interdisciplinary programs offered by the Museum, which engages many of the disciplines at Spelman in unique conversations surrounding the art displayed. “In the Museum, during any given programing season, there might be musicians, filmmakers, scientist, visual artists as well as dancers and writers presenting in this space,” said Dixon-Hill.
For more information about Yoga in the Museum and the Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teen Girls, please visit www.museum.spelman.edu. – Kia Smith, C’2004, is the social media coordinator in Spelman’s Office of Communications.