Grand Rapids Public Museum explores the workings of the mind in upcoming exhibit

Jim Pestka, university distinguished professor of food science and human nutrition, Melissa Bates, Ph.D student and Jack Harkema, university distinguished professor of pathobiology, work at the microscope on Tuesday August 30, 2016. (Photo supplied)

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) just announced a new exhibit, The Life of the Mind, opening Saturday, October 21, telling the story of mental health treatment from the late 18th century through to today.


The Life of the Mind explores the evolution of mental health care based on an increase in knowledge of how the brain and mind works and on society’s changing perspectives of mental illnesses.


Featured artifacts from the GRPM’s extensive Collections provide fascinating evidence about the progression of medical intervention for mental illness from radical treatments of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the more research-based therapies of present-day practice.


This new exhibit will accompany the traveling exhibition Brain: The World Inside Your Head offering visitors a deeper dive and local angle on the subject matter.


“The Museum continuously works to add a Grand Rapids component to all of our experiences for the community. With the Brain exhibit, it’s a natural tie to the topic of mental health, and is a collaboration with local students at Calvin College,” said Dale Robertson, President & CEO of the GRPM. “The exhibit is unique as it tells the story of nationwide changes to mental health treatments over time using Grand Rapids artifacts.”


Many artifacts featured in The Life of the Mind were generously donated to the GRPM by Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Hospital where they had been originally used. Established in 1910, Pine Rest is one of only a handful of private, independent, free-standing behavioral healthcare institutions that remains in the United States, and is one of the largest with 198 inpatient beds.


The Life of the Mind exhibit was developed by GRPM staff, based on a student project from Calvin College, where Historical Research and Writing students presented the concepts of a mental health exhibit to tell of the technological and societal changes in advancement of mental health care. The GRPM has worked with the History Department at Calvin College since 2011 in various capacities, including provided Collections access for several classes.


This exhibit is running in conjunction with the Museum’s current traveling exhibit Brain: The World Inside Your head. Both exhibits are included with the cost of general admission to the Museum, and run through January 7, 2018.


Brain: The World Inside Your Head


Brain literally takes you inside the head to probe the geography of a giant brain and stand in the midst of the brain’s constant electrical brainstorm as thoughts and sensations are generated.


Upon entry into the exhibit, visitors walk through a shimmering tunnel of flashing fiber-optics that illuminates networks of neurons firing and communicating. From this dynamic beginning, Brain invites guests deeper into the brain to discover its basic workings. Trace this brain’s development from infancy through old age, learn the evolution of scientists’ understanding of the brain’s physiology and study the re-created skull of Phineas Gage — a man who survived after his brain was pierced by a metal rod.


For audiences of all ages, the experience-based exhibit employs innovative special effects, 3D reproductions, virtual reality, hands-on learning activities and interactive technology to delve into the inner workings of the brain, including its processes, potentials and mysteries.



For more information about The Life of the Mind or other exhibits and activities at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, visit