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New York City Celebrates “Art Beyond Sight Day”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proclaimed today, May 6, “Art Beyond Sight Day” in recognition of the important work of Art Beyond Sight (ABS) and the American Association of Museums (AAM) in making art and visual culture accessible to people with vision loss and other disabilities.

The two organizations have teamed up for a gala this evening at the Asia Society to promote the importance of access to the arts. Joining them is Emmy, Golden Globe, NAACP and SAG award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson.

“As an avid museum goer, I am delighted to support this gala,” says Ms. Merkerson. “Art Beyond Sight is a leader in making museums accessible to blind and visually impaired children and adults, and the American Association of Museums has been working for excellence in museums for more than a century. Both organizations contribute greatly to making our nation’s museums rich sources of learning and community that are accessible to all people.”

Ms. Merkerson and Ford Bell, president of AAM, will be speaking at the gala. The evening will also feature verbal descriptions of New York City’s two new baseball stadiums. Verbal description is a way of using language to enable people who are blind to create visual images in their minds. The descriptions of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are part of ABS’s New York Beyond Sight project. (www.nybeyondsight.org)

“At AAM, we believe museums are for all Americans, and by that we truly mean all of us,” Bell said. “The entire museum field has embraced the concept of intellectual access for every American, because every citizen deserves to share in our heritages – historic, cultural and natural – and to help shape the world future generations will inherit.”

AAM has been at the center of the nation’s museum community for 103 years. Its goal is excellence in all museums; its belief is that museums are an essential resource for learning in every community. AAM advocates for museums at the federal, state and local levels, and promotes their value with the media, the funding community and the public. AAM works to establish the highest professional standards in all areas of museum operations, while encouraging all museums to make education, community engagement and public service their highest priorities.

ABS, founded in 1987 by Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel, has created a paradigm shift in the field of museum and arts access, and a change in the way we view people with disabilities in American culture. The new spirit of inclusion in our cultural institutions has made a difference for millions of children and adults. “This change must not be lost or taken for granted,” says Ms. Axel, explaining that for two decades, ABS has developed accessible programs and multimodal learning tools for all audiences.

“Our knowledge of best practices in the field of diversity and inclusion is essential for museums today. Our model programs have shown that museums have a crucial role to play in the education and enlightenment of all audiences, including non-traditional and disabled audiences. When blind people become involved in the arts, they are inspired to change the goals they set for themselves,” Ms. Axel adds.

“It is an enriching experience for all people, including people with disabilities, to have access to the arts, to our nation’s museums and cultural centers,” says U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel, a strong advocate for the arts and a participant in ABS’s New York Beyond Sight project. “Funding for the arts,” he stresses, “should take into account the need to provide access for people with vision loss and other disabilities.”

AAM and ABS hope that tonight’s gala and the Mayor’s Proclamation will help raise awareness about the need for and benefits of making art and visual culture accessible to people with vision loss and other disabilities. The methods used to enable people who cannot see to form visual images of the treasures of our museums also benefit children and adults with learning disabilities – and, indeed, enhance all people’s appreciation for art and culture.

Text of the Mayor’s Proclamation

WHEREAS: New York City is an international cultural capital. We are home to approximately 500 art galleries, 150 museums, and some of the best artists in the world. Since 1987, Art Beyond Sight has made our City’s rich artistic traditions available to even more New Yorkers by helping residents with vision loss access art history, art creation, and visual culture.

WHEREAS: ABS has developed a number of innovative methods and materials to make art available to children and adults who are blind or visually impaired, from pioneering techniques like verbal description; to designing tactile diagrams for museums across the country; to creating sound, drama, and art-making activities, this organization has made the arts accessible to so many in our city and beyond. In addition, ABS has collaborated with a number of museums and organizations – including the American Printing House for the Blind, the New York City Board of Education/Education Vision Services, and our City’s Museum of Modern Art – to create new teaching methods, resources, and programs for those with vision impairments.

WHEREAS: Tonight, Art Beyond Sight teams up with the American Association of Museums, which does outstanding work advocating for museums across the country, to promote access to the arts among blind and visually impaired residents. This joint gala is also a terrific opportunity to celebrate the achievements of both organizations, and raise awareness about the many ways children and adults with vision loss can access the arts.

WHEREAS: The artist Robert Motherwell said “Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.” On behalf of the City of New York, I commend Art Beyond Sight and the American Association of Museums for ensuring that the visual arts are able to enrich the lives of all New Yorkers. Their efforts have yielded tremendous benefits for our residents, and New York City is proud to join in tonight’s celebration.

Now therefore, I, Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, in recognition of these organizations’ tremendous work expanding access to the arts for visually impaired residents, do hereby proclaim Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 in the City of New York as: “Art Beyond Sight Day.”

Photos from the May 6 Gala

Shown, from left, are Dr. Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums; Cheryl Rosario, Manager, Philanthropy, American Express, and Vice Chair of the Board of Art Beyond Sight (AEB); award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson; Nicholas R. Williams, Senior Partner, Clifford Chance, and Chairman of the Board of AEB; and Dr. Nina Levent, AEB’s Executive Director.
Shown, from left, are Dr. Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums; Cheryl Rosario, Manager, Philanthropy, American Express, and Vice Chair of the Board of Art Beyond Sight (ABS); award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson; Nicholas R. Williams, Senior Partner, Clifford Chance, and Chairman of the Board of ABS; and Dr. ABS’s Executive Director.
 
Busser Howell, left, and Michael Chapman. Mr. Howell, an artist, serves as a consultant to AEB.
Busser Howell, left, and Michael Chapman. Mr. Howell, an artist, serves as a consultant to ABS.
 
  From left: Sue Salzhauer, Gino Martocci, Diana Martocci, and Henry Salzhauer.
From left: Sue Salzhauer, Gino Martocci, Diana Martocci, and Henry Salzhauer.
 
Yo Kano, left, and Richard Donald Smith provided music for the May 6 event. Dr. Smith is a member of the Board of AEB.
Yo Kano, left, and Richard Donald Smith provided music for the May 6 event. Dr. Smith is a member of the Board of ABS.
 
  From left: Connie Collins, Leslie Conason, and Katlean DeMonchy.
From left: Connie Collins, Leslie Conason, and Katlean DeMonchy.
 
From left: Susan Petrie, Joey Longo, Irving Bernstein, and Elisabeth Axel. Ms. Axel is the founder and President of AEB.
From left: Susan Petrie, Joey Longo, Irving Bernstein, and Elisabeth Axel. Ms. Axel is the founder and President of ABS.
 
  Michael D. and Claire M. Robinson. Mr. Robinson is a member of AEB’s Board.
Michael D. and Claire M. Robinson. Mr. Robinson is a member of ABS’s Board.
 
From left: Daryl Roth, Richard Parsons, and Joey Longo.
From left: Daryl Roth, Richard Parsons, and Joey Longo.
 
  New York City Commissioner Matthew Sapolin, left, and Cal Hunter.
New York City Commissioner Matthew Sapolin, left, and Cal Hunter.
 
Ron Ries and S. Epatha Merkerson. Ms. Merkerson was one of the evening’s speakers.
Ron Ries and S. Epatha Merkerson. Ms. Merkerson was one of the evening’s speakers.
 
   

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Painting by Peter Paul Rubens; detail of woman carrying a basket on her head and holding the hand of a child. Half the image is a tactile drawing, half the original painting.Rubens paintingRubens painting
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