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The Frye Brings Mindfulness To The Museum

Five years ago, Frye Art Museum senior deputy director Jill Rullkoetter was casting about for the perfect public program to accompany an art exhibit called "Seance" which featured the work of German artist Albert Von Keller.

"He depicted images of women in seances, and kind of having these out of body experiences," Rulkoetter explains.

She wanted to create some kind of participatory event that would bring museum-goers into the spirit of this artist's work.

Rullkoetter's boss said no seances at the Frye. But she was open to the idea of hosting a weekly free meditation session.

"So we developed this program, it was going to be ten weeks long," says Rulkoetter.

She invited a physical therapist from nearby Swedish Hospital to lead the lunchtime session in the Frye's 140-seat auditorium.

The program was not an instant success. "We had about seven or 10 people the first couple of weeks," Rulkoetter recalls.

But word of mouth spread.

Now, five years after the Frye inaugurated what was to be a temporary program, more than 100 meditators show up every Wednesday at 12:30 for this free, on-going guided session.

On a recent sunny spring day, Diane Hetrick takes the stage in the darkened Frye auditorium. She starts the session with a short anecdote, then invites the participants to close their eyes, rest their hands on their thighs and breath in slowly and deeply.

The meditators are a diverse bunch: workers from the nearby hospitals, retirees, tattooed hipsters. They sit quietly as Hetrick guides them through a 30-minute meditation.  Finally, Hetrick rings a small bell and the participants open their eyes. Many smile as they gather their coats, briefcases or backpacks and head out.

Joseph Britton, 58, has been attending the Frye sessions for several weeks at the advice of a counselor. He ticks off a list of ailments: "Stress, over-drinking, trying to give up smoking."

Britton says meditation really does make him feel better.

That's exactly what Rulkoetter likes to hear. "Many of the programs we offer do that kind of thing," she explains. "They're ways of helping people heal."

The Frye is one of a handful of art museums across the country that offer regular meditation sessions to their patrons.

Rulkoetter has no hard numbers to link these sessions to an uptick in attendance at the Frye's art exhibits, but that really isn't the goal for her. She's more interested in making this small private institution a community destination.

Up next, Rulkoetter plans to launch weekly yoga sessions in one of the Frye museum galleries.