Museum Studies student Kimberly Crowell first learned how to create tour materials for the visually impaired during her internship at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. “When I moved to Gainesville, I learned that the Harn Museum also had tours for the visually impaired in the past, and I expressed an interest in re-starting these tours,” says Crowell. “Because of this, my fellow Harn intern Kelly Simmons, our supervisor Elizabeth King and I began to work with members of the Gainesville community toward achieving this goal.”
In the past, the Harn had two different types of programs for the visually impaired: one was a guided tour of selected works on display at the Harn using tactile images and verbal descriptions, and the other was a touchable installation of works from artists in the Gainesville community. “We decided to take elements from both of these events to create our new program called Access Art,” says Crowell.
The team created a ‘Call to Artists’ that was sent to UF and Santa Fe College Art students and to members of the Gainesville community. As a result, they had more than 40 submissions from both blind and sighted artists, and many of the artists attended the event to discuss their work with the event participants.
For the guided tour portion of Access Art, they created tactile images and verbal descriptions of several works in the Monet and American Impressionism exhibition. They also worked with a focus group devised of members from the National Federation of the Blind’s Gainesville chapter in order to test these tour materials. Finally, they recruited Harn volunteers and UF Museum Studies graduate students to serve as sighted guides and partnered with the Division of Blind Services to provide a training session about how to act as a sighted guide.
The program had 13 blind or visually impaired visitors participate in the tour portion of the event.
“The program was a great success and we have received nothing but positive feedback about it,” says Crowell. “This experience provided me with the knowledge of what goes into creating a new educational program at a museum from start to finish.
As a museum studies student who is focusing in education, I think that this hands-on experience is crucial for my professional development.”
For those interested in learning more, the Harn Museum’s Bishop Study Center has a hands-on collection that always offers museum visitors opportunities to experience objects from Asia, Africa and South America through the sense of touch. The tactile images and verbal descriptions that were used during the Access Art gallery tours are also available for checkout at the Bishop Study Center.
“We plan to have the Access Art event each spring,” says Crowell, “and, with the knowledge that we have gained, we plan to make it bigger and better each year.”