Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month @Museums
Today's museum community is becoming more inclusive. It is open to people from all walks of life, including people with disabilities, children with special needs and their families, seniors who are losing their sight, and people who are blind or visually impaired. Successful museum educators actively foster dynamic interaction with members of their special constituencies and seek their feedback.
The Art Beyond Sight Collaborative recognizes that art education and exposure to the arts are crucial for advancement of many key issues in the education and rehabilitation of people who are blind. Art can be used as a tool in overcoming many of the daily living issues faced by people who are blind. Throwing museum doors open plays a vital role in enabling people who are blind and visually impaired to be more active in their communities, to develop new skills through the arts, and, in some cases, to find employment in the arts and at museums.
Events for Awareness Month:
Reaching Out to Your Museum Team
Via telephone conference
Online sensitivity training (listen during lunch)
Reaching Out to Your Community
Internal event: To speak to your museum team
Public Show/Reception: to speak to the public and museum staff
Art works of students who are blind
Art of blind artists
Touchable works of art by contemporary artists
Bring the school to the museum
Update us on your activities!
Use the collaborative's resources to enhance your event: Out of town speakers, traveling exhibits, posters, awards, and much more.
Reaching Out to Your Museum Team:
You know just how important it is for your staff, docents, and volunteers to be informed about their audience and feel reassured about what they are doing. Welcoming visitors with a range of different visual impairments in the museum poses unique challenges. There are a few simple things you can do to meet these challenges in conjunction with the Awareness Month. You'll find that a small effort will go a long way.
- Awareness Updates. These are without a doubt the easiest way for you to bring Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month to your institution. Your colleagues, not only in the education department, but also the conservators, visitors services, and even curators will enjoy reading these e-mails with their morning coffee and doughnuts. The collaborative prepares beautifully designed, full-color electronic awareness updates weekly during Awareness Month. Each one highlights a different theme of importance, and each features the work of blind professional artists and children. Sending them to everyone is a great way to spread awareness - and to unite the different parts of your museum team.
- Art Beyond Sight Crash Course. Art Beyond Sight's All-Day Telephone Conference Training and Discussions will take place on Monday, October 15. Monday is the day many museums use to train their docents, and we hope your team will be able to tune in. The training sessions, each 40 minutes long followed by question-and-answer sessions, will address basic issues related to educational programming for people with vision loss. These once-a-year trainings sessions are designed to provide a crash course for museum and school educators, making available to your team the authors of Art Beyond Sight. A Resource Guide to Art, Creativity, and Visual Impairment . This most important training of the year is open to all educators, parents, artists and art lovers, but the telephone conference service that the collaborative uses can accommodate a limited number of people, so you might want to arrive early!
Join us for the whole day to get a complete training, or for just a couple of sessions depending on your schedule or interests. Some museums plan to start with the general opening early in the morning and follow up with an internal discussion between educators, docents, volunteers and visitors over breakfast, after which they will tune in for the rest of the talks.
- Security Guards Awareness and Sensitivity Training. Your security guards are the first people to greet all your visitors. Security guards should know how to accommodate the needs of blind patrons, and should be able to direct them clearly and helpfully. One easy way to participate in Awareness Month is to have your guards join the telephone conference session on sensitivity. If your guards don't work on Monday or can't participate for some other reason, they can listen to the online sensitivity training module any day this week, over lunch or as part of a larger event. Invite someone from your local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind or a different blindness organization to speak about the experience of being blind, the sensitivity issues and what the expectations of a blind visitor to a museum are. (See our handbook for instructions for a full sensitivity training.)
- Conservators' Conversation Group. If your conservators are like most, the idea of visitors touching the exhibits might be new to them, especially if your museum has never had a touch tour before. Many of your conservators concerns are legitimate: No materials are completely impervious to the touch of the human hand. The physical and chemical changes that can result from direct handling may bring about aesthetic changes and loss of information from the surface of the object. Conservators must take into account an object's history, use, and cultural significance when proposing treatment, exhibition, and handling options. However, your curatorial, conservation, and education staff can reach a consensus and designate a group of objects appropriate for a touch tour.
One way of addressing the conservators' concerns is to get a conservator from a museum currently running a touch tour to join you by phone or in person to discuss factors important in choosing appropriate objects for a touch tour and the proper gloves to best protect the art work while allowing the maximum tactile experience.
- Museum Team at Work Group. Curators, conservators, visitors' support personnel, and security guards - they all need to be on the same page. Have a meeting to welcome the new group team effort and develop a strategy to keep everyone informed about the current state of the museum program so that everyone is ready to welcome people who are blind and visually impaired once they pass through the front door.
- Art Beyond Sight: A Demonstration of Practical Techniques. Art Beyond Sight and the Museum of Modern Art in New York created this 64-minute video on techniques for making your program accessible. Grab some breakfast, and listen to Meredith Viera introduce the idea of art education for blind people and explain how to create a program blind people can enjoy at your museum. Make sure to schedule some discussion time after the video, if possible with an educator from a museum that has already gotten its program off the ground.
Reaching Out to Your Community:
So you've got your program up and running, and you are looking to reach out to blind people and their families in your neighborhood. Or you're thinking about establishing a program and are working to create a strong advisory board or working group that will help you though this process. Blind people are often leery of the idea of visiting museums. That's partly because they don't know how you will receive them, and partly because they are skeptical themselves that there is anything there they can do. Prove them wrong! Awareness Month is your opportunity to show the blind people in your community not only how that they can enjoy museum visits, but also that they are wanted at their local museums, as visitors, program participants, advisors, docents, and volunteers.
- Host a Table Staffed by Members of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). October is NFB's "Meet the Blind" month, and the organization's membership has agreed to participate in Awareness Month by staffing tables in museum lobbies, where they can meet museum patrons and discuss blindness, braille, assistive technology, and NFB programs. Make sure NFB members have had opportunities to experience your programs, so they can also discuss them, too.
- Family Fun Art Making Activity. Invite children and adults who are blind, their families, and friends to participate in an art-making activity. This will demonstrate to parents and family how much fun making art is, and that everyone is capable of creating a unique work of art. Have materials sorted in different containers to assist children with visual impairments. Children whose vision is very low can be offered raised-line drawing boards that enable them to create pictures that they can later explore tactually. Children can also make their artworks on a large piece of paper taped to the surface of the desk. (Please look up chapter 10 in Art Beyond Sight. A Resource Guide on Art, Creativity, and Visual Impairment for information on art making materials and techniques and at the Art Making Program at school or center for the blind Chapter in the Handbook.)
- Involving Seniors and Veterans with Sight Loss. Often, people who have lost their sight later in life are least involved in any cultural programs. Contact your local Veterans Association or senior citizens groups to schedule a joint event with them. Start with a discussion about how the lose of sight has affected their feelings about museums, their sense of welcome there. If some of the people present are accustomed to visiting museums after having lost their sight, encourage them to expand on their experiences, on why they visit and what they think others could get out of similar visits. If you have a touch tour or a verbal description tour at your museum, split the discussion into pre-tour and post-tour conversations, and use the opportunity to get feedback. If not, broach the idea and see what kind of reaction you get. You might be surprised at how enthusiastic your visitors are. Also see the chapter on Art Programs for Seniors, Veterans, and Homebound People with Sight Loss.
- Invite a Blind or Visually Impaired Artist. Your may want to invite an artist who is blind to give public presentation addressing your sighted and visually impaired patrons. Put on a show of artworks created by blind or visually impaired artists in your galleries or educational center, and host a reception celebrating local artists included in the show. Bringing an artist who is blind to your institution, or organizing an exhibit, can help achieve several objectives. A blind artist can give your museum team a unique perspective on how visual impairment interacts with creativity and art making. For advice on how to create such a show or to locate artworks your institution could acquire on loan, see the National Exhibition of Blind Artists at www.neba.org or Art of the Eye Exhibit at Delta Gamma Foundation, or Friends in Art, American Council for the Blind Special Interest Affiliate. To get in touch with artists who are blind in your neighborhood or who are willing to travel to you, contact your local NFB chapter, or try posting an e-mail on Art Beyond Sight's Professional and Amateur Artists listserv.
- Art Exhibit. An art exhibit can take place in the museum galleries or education department. There are many resources available to you in finding artworks to display.
- There are, for instance, traveling exhibits work by blind artists, such as the National Exhibition of Blind Artists at www.neba.org or Art of the Eye Exhibit at the Delta Gamma Foundation,
- Many contemporary artists create multi-sensory works of art, some of which are created for touch. These are some of the artists' Web sites: Ann Cunningham or Karen Spitzberg.
- Keep reading for instructions on putting on a show of art from a local school of blind and visually impaired students.
See Art Beyond Sight Collaborative Resources ideas to use in putting together an art show, such as a call for entries and an announcement template.
- Show of Student Art. Contact your local school for blind and visually impaired children. Invite the school to put together an exhibition of students' artworks to be displayed in your education center or galleries, at the local library for the blind, or at the school itself, with your staff arranging a reception for the public. If the school has a music or dramatic arts program, encourage them to perform at the reception as well, creating a multi-sensory art experience. If the school in your neighborhood has a music/drama program but not an art program, invite those students to perform at an event during Awareness Month, as that will bring the students and their families into the museum. See Art Beyond Sight Collaborative Resources for a downloadable certificate of participation for all students whose art or performance is featured.
- Museum School Partnerships. Schools and classroom teachers play a role in creating lasting change in the education community and in the lives of students. Museum programs, in turn, provide schools with the crucial support needed to accomplish this transformation. Many museums have longstanding, ongoing partnerships with educators, some of which you can see in Art Beyond Sight. A Resource Guide to Art, Creativity, and Visual Impairment Chapter 10,in the Art Beyond Sight video, or in the Handbook's chapter on Museum and School Partnerships. You can start your own relationship with a school in your community. The first step is to contact a school and arrange to meet with its teachers about your museum's resources and how they could enhance the school's curricula. Look up the curriculum integration activities developed by ABS. Have the school arrange a trip to the museum, and visit the school first to prepare the students for their trip. Invite the teachers in to the museum education department for a day to teach them about how art can help their students. Click here for an example of a full collaborative effort between school and museum. Art Beyond Sight Collaborative, in conjunction with Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta, put together these Four Lesson Blocks for a museum school partnership that will help you to introduce students to the concept of a museum and your museum collection as well as serving as a start-up for a wonderful partnership.
- Invite a Speaker. Take advantage of the interdisciplinary synergy of Awareness Month to have someone different come in to speak with your team and community. The Art Beyond Sight Collaborative is an excellent resource for finding speakers - post a message on the listserv corresponding to your interest to see who is available. If you have the funding, you can bring an out-of-town expert to your institution - if not, arrange a telephone conference. Local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind, colleagues from other museums, or local artists also make great speakers on a variety of topics.