Enabling the Blind to See: Visit to the MoMA
Imagine walking into an art museum and not having the ability to see the art on display. Because of a program called Art inSight at the Museum of Modern Art, the visually impaired and legally blind do not have to miss out on experiencing the art of the museum. The program was designed for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, and specially trained tour guides provide extensive and detailed visual descriptions of artwork while engaging participants in discussions about a variety of themes, artists and exhibitions.
The group, consisting of sighted, partially sighted and blind art lovers, toured the architecture and design galleries. Visitors and volunteers walked along as sight-seeing dogs and the tour guide led the way to the first display. Exhibited on the third floor was a Smart Car, parked amid other artwork.
“Why is there a car in the museum?” asked Myra, one of the visually impaired visitors. The car’s aesthetic qualities, functionality and design marked the German and French automobile as an exceptional work of art. The group walked around the car to allow individuals to comprehend the actual size of the car. Myra discussed the Smart Car’s noise level; most smart cars are quieter than the average gas-guzzler. She said quieter cars pose a problem for blind pedestrians who rely on their hearing to cross roads safely. Other visitors nodded their heads in agreement, and criticized the new wave of “smart cars” that are silent but deadly for the visually impaired.
Another work of art that raised more than an eyebrow was a piece by French artists Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, called “Nuages (Cloud) Bookcase.” The bookcase is made from a white opaque plastic. Similar to a cloud, which carries water, the shelf-like sculpture can hold household items. Some of the visitors questioned its practicality and others, its functionality.
“It would make a good room divider, instead of a bookcase,” said Gordon, a visitor at the exhibition, who admired its pellucidity. “Looks like a gigantic wine rack,” said Spider, an avid monthly visitor of many New York City museums that offer services to the blind. One of the blind visitors inquired whether it could hold plants or home décor, but after the group described the piece’s honeycomb design to her, she had a better understanding of the cloud’s physical qualities and usage.
After the tour, many of the visitors took part in lively conversations, expressing their opinions and reflections of the galleries and the tour as a whole. One of the visitors, an art aficionado who is partially blind, visits different museums each month and participates in programs for the blind. She and other participants believe that being involved in these programs allow them to see.
The MoMA and many other museums have developed and are continuing to develop accessible programs and train tour guides for people with special needs. Many museums are also widening their accessibility through other programs.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has created a series of accessible programs such as Art Talk, where 10 to 15 participants discuss works of art in the museum with a facilitator over the telephone. This is a great option for individuals who are unable to visit the museum. Other museums collaborate with the surrounding community to foster awareness and involvement.
The Detroit Institute of Art is one museum that works with local schools and universities to provide art-making and art appreciation experiences. Another unique program there is called Minds on Art, which is especially designed for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These accessible programs continue to grow across the nation, evincing the importance of art in society. #
David Beltran, an intern at Education Update, contributed reporting for this story.