by Kim Crowell
(Author’s Note: In keeping with Crystal Bridges’ mission to welcome all, the museum’s Access and Inclusive Programs team partnered with the Arkansas Council of the Blind for an on-site multisensory experience. This tour was a part of the Arkansas Council of the Blind’s annual conference, and the hope is that it leads to more ongoing offerings for visitors with vision loss.)
The day started with multisensory tours of four works in the museum’s Modern Art and Contemporary Galleries. The museum educators began by reading verbal descriptions that convey the size of an object in terms of the human body (i.e., this painting is the width of two adults’ outstretched arms and hangs on the wall 2.5 feet over one’s head), the location of objects within the artwork, color, and texture. Through these descriptions, participants are able to imagine what a work of art looks like.
In addition to verbal descriptions, museum educators passed around touchable maps created by staff to represent the art on the tour.
Multisensory materials such as scents and objects that represented items found in the works of art were passed around for participants on some of the tour stops. Sounds like ocean waves crashing against rocks were also incorporated for some of the landscape scenes to give a sense of what the scene depicted.
Participants were able to touch select sculptures on the tour using nitrile gloves. Rita Reese-Whiting, who is the secretary for the Ozarks Chapter of the Arkansas Council of the Blind, said the experience of getting to touch Louise Bourgeois’ “Distant Figures” sculpture was “absolutely fantastic! To be able to feel the actual construction marks made by the artists was a glimpse into their creative process, and feeling rough, unfinished parts in contrast to highly polished, finished parts gave an understanding of the time, effort, and passion that went into each piece.”
Participants were also invited to touch works of art created by museum staff and volunteer artists at the end of the program. These works of art included jewelry made from found objects, highly textured paintings, quilts, sculptures, felted objects, among many others. The artists were also present at this portion of the program to describe their works of art and their artistic processes to the participants as they felt the works of art. In response, Reese-Whiting said, “having the artwork where we could touch it and [to] have the artist walk us through a description by touch as they verbally described the piece let the blind appreciate subtle nuances of the work sighted persons might overlook.”
Crystal Bridges offers free multisensory tours for visitors with vision loss throughout the year with advance notice, based on availability. To schedule a tour, please contact the museum at https://crystalbridges.org/contact-us/?contact=accessibility. The museum also offers a number of on-site accommodations for guests with disabilities, which can be found at https://crystalbridges.org/access-and-inclusive-programs/.
In addition, free audio tours, which include audio label text for selected artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, are available for download on Android or Apple devices. Devices pre-loaded with the audio tours, to use during your visit to the museum, are available for check-out from Guest Services at no cost. The museum is also developing a verbal description app tour, where guests with all levels of sight can listen to the descriptions used on our multisensory tours from any location.