September 25, 2019 | By Amanda Sieradzki
Multi-Sensory Art Experiences
at the Morean Arts Center & Chihuly Collection
Touch Tour – Ongoing Through October 20
Chihuly Collection Morean Arts Center
Details here Details here
Most art museum attendants flinch at the sight of a patron massaging a glass-blown chandelier or prodding an oil-slick canvas. However, the Morean Arts Center is bucking those taboos and honing in on their mission to provide accessible community spaces.
While a touch tour debuts at the Chihuly Collection, the Morean Arts Center is exhibiting You Can Feel What We See, which features the works of visually impaired students across Pinellas County Schools.
“Museums and art institutions are stewards of the community and it behooves us to have approachable and accessible opportunities for a diverse amount of communities,” says Andy Schlauch, Executive Director of the Chihuly Collection. “When you’re dealing with the visual arts, you have this whole community who feels it is not for them because they are low-sight or blind — so the onus is on us to figure out how to make an art museum experience meaningful.”
Schlauch and Director of Photography Beth Reynolds have created a touch tour at the Chihuly Collection for patrons with low vision or vision impairment. Connecting to Chihuly’s work in this way appears a perfect fit, as the famous glassblower is also visually impaired. Patrons may request this accommodation by visiting the Chihuly Collection’s group tours page.
On the tour, guides give patrons spatial awareness by describing the wood and metal gallery walls and the high contrast between glowing glass sculptures and dimly lit rooms. A cart rolls along with a glass assortment from the collection’s hot shop. The ridges and grooves of each piece reflect the seashells and beach fauna that inspired Chihuly during his Florida residency. While textural references give patrons a feel for the works, descriptions that range from marshy wetlands to planetary orbs all paint a verbal landscape.
“If I were to lose my sight, I wouldn’t want to lose my enjoyment of art,” says Reynolds. “I want to make sure no one else loses that enjoyment. As a community arts center it is our mission to connect people with art no matter what.”
Across the street from Chihuly, Amanda Cooper, Curator of Exhibitions at the Morean Arts Center, partnered with Kelly Hendrickson, Vision Coordinator for Pinellas County Schools, to further that mission. Together, they curated 70 works by visually impaired students, which will be on display through October 20.
Much like the Chihuly touch tour, visitors are encouraged to reach out and feel the students’ art as a means of understanding their world.
Dylan Giddens and Jon Lempfert’s dog Buddy is outlined in red puffy paint and concocted with pepper, cinnamon and a dash of chili powder. These rough spices transform the visual image into an olfactory and tactile smorgasbord.
Forest Lakes Elementary student, Nick Barber, used raised dots of paint to create a soundboard. Running a hand over the paper with closed eyes gives the sensation of perfectly rendered buttons and levers as if the actual object were present.
Hendrickson worked as a resource teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary for many years before stepping into her current role, which supports the educational experiences of 200 visually impaired Pinellas County students. She assists teachers in finding creative adaptions and alternative formats for lesson plans. When it comes to art classes, the possibilities are as expansive as a child’s imagination.
“If a visually impaired student is making a face, the eyes might not be in the right place,” describes Hendrickson. “We don’t want assistants or friends moving their eyes, we want it to be their piece of artwork. They should be proud of what they make so where their eyes go, they go.”
Fluorescent braille beads, furry pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and cupcake liners are only a handful of the tools students have at their disposal, each providing another dimension. Hendrickson says Wickie sticks are a popular item the county includes in toolkits for teachers given their malleable nature and three-dimensionality.
When it comes to teaching artistic concepts, Hendrickson notes that teachers might equate the contrast of light and dark with feeling the sun and shadows outside. Students with low vision tend to gravitate towards brighter colors, while others who see the world in grayscale find textured papers satisfying. Exploring objects like clay and rice in the classroom build the necessary tactile skills to learn Braille and navigate the world.
Cooper feels pure joy from each work in the exhibit. She sees it as an opportunity to raise awareness about a community who has just as much of a right to make and exhibit their art as their sighted counterparts. Cooper says that other places that are interested in bringing this kind of exhibit to their county should reach out to local arts venues and collaborate.
“There’s nothing like seeing your art in a professional gallery, whether you’re five or 105,” says Cooper. “You never know with kids if that could be their jumping point into a career in the arts.”
Hendrickson adds that more awareness will not only enhance visitors’ lives, but students’ as well.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of how many visually impaired students we have,” says Hendrickson. “They all read Braille or use large print or assistive technology and they are doing everything their peers are doing right next to them.”
You Can Feel What We See
is On Display through October 20
at the Morean Arts Center
A Touch Tour
is now available at the