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Meadows Museum - An Inclusive Art Museum

9 minutes

(Describer) Title: SMU Meadows Museum – An Inclusive Art Museum A man plays guitar.

(male narrator) The Meadows Museum is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University and is recognized as having the most comprehensive collection of Spanish Art outside of Spain, with works created in periods ranging from the end of the 15th century to the present. The museum also oversees and manages a collection of modern and contemporary sculpture by American and European artists. As an academic museum with a strong international reputation, the Meadows Museum develops programs for a broad, diverse audience, on and off campus.

(Describer) Adults walk with children between galleries.

We understand that art museums may not be of interest to everyone. However, a decision not to visit a museum should always be a personal choice and not because a person feels unwelcome or excluded. Therefore, the Meadows Museum is committed to developing tools and approaches that maximize experiences with works of art for all visitors, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities.

(Describer) A woman types beside a book titled “Art Beyond Sight”.

Working with Mary Ann Siller, National Consultant in Blindness and Low Vision Services, we conducted a guided survey of 28 university art museums to determine if and how they are addressing their visitors with disabilities. Following this survey, we were convinced of the need to offer programs for people with disabilities, but felt it important to ask our target audience about their preferences. We began by organizing focus groups with blind and visually impaired participants. Based on our findings, the museum became less interested in designing programs for groups with a specific disability, as many museums do, and much more interested in creating meaningful experiences for groups with mixed abilities. Therefore, we focused our attention on the development of an inclusive approach that would enable all visitors to engage with and learn from works of art.

(Describer) A woman wearing a badge speaks to people in front of a painting.

The Meadows Museum designs programs based on an approach combining description, multisensory activities, and interdisciplinary connections that enable sighted, blind, and low vision visitors to develop a deep understanding of works of art. Through a variety of materials and resources, visitors explore art using all of their senses.

(Describer) Some smell strips of paper.

Through literature, music, history, and other contexts, they discover multiple meanings in works of art.

(Describer) Someone paints.

Through inclusive art-making activities, they learn about the artists' materials and creative process. And through conversations about the art, they see the value of sharing different viewpoints.

(Describer) A woman speaks to a group at tables.

In the fall of 2012, the Meadows Museum launched its first inclusive program, INsights & OUTlooks. Led by education staff and John Bramblitt, an artist who is blind, the program is designed to offer participants an intensive exploration of a single work of art.

(Describer) Bramblett:

(Bramblitt) I've been fortunate to work with different museums, different organizations all over the country. And Meadows--what's happening at Meadows right now, it's-- There's no museum anywhere in the world that wouldn't like, give their right leg to be able to do something like what Meadows is doing.

(Describer) Brightly colored paintings stand behind him.

It's a workshop that's different than is going on anywhere. It's a workshop where you're engaged. People come into a museum and they want to understand the artwork, they want to engage with the artwork. You know, a visceral sort of thing. Here you're touching things, you're smelling things, you're feeling things, you're tasting things, you're listening, you're engaging with the time period, you're engaging with the artwork, you're understanding the artist in a way that is just-- it's incredible.

(Describer) The speaker with the people at tables continues.

(narrator) In order to prepare for participants with diverse needs and interests, we incorporate a sort of "toolbox," with objects that might help them understand the work of art. For example, the toolbox might include raised line drawings of the work to illustrate the composition, as well as reproductions that replicate the texture of the artwork.

(Describer) Visitors feel them.

The toolbox might also contain music, scents, or taste samples that relate to the subject matter or ideas expressed in the work.

(Describer) Siler:

The Meadows museum has such a wonderful way of building and honoring all people's appreciation. And to have this opportunity in the community is so exciting. Few museums have really embraced that understanding of inclusive programming in everything they do. That it's for everyone-- all different abilities and interests, and expanding their horizon and what art can be a part of their life.

(narrator) When exploring a work of art, we adopt an extremely flexible approach, beginning with description and participants' observations. The goal is to help each other construct some understanding about the artwork, so that everyone, including those who are blind or have low vision, may formulate their own interpretation and opinion of the work. We invite participants to use all of their senses and consider the work from multiple perspectives.

(Describer) A raised-line drawing is labeled with Braille.

As much as possible, we focus on aspects of the work that can best or only be appreciated in the presence of the object itself. We pull objects from the toolbox as necessary to elucidate a point or explain some aspect of the work of art, and re-direct our activities and discussions depending upon individual needs and interests. This approach of starting with description and layering the presentation of information enables visitors to achieve understanding of works of art beyond their sense of sight.

(Describer) Raised-line drawings and reproductions cover a table.

We have acquired tools and tactile graphics for a number of works from the Museum's permanent collection, and our collection of resources is growing.

(Describer) Different colors in a work are indicated with different texture patterns.

Whenever possible, we also include touch-tours of our modern and contemporary sculpture.

(male) We touch on the sculptures a whole lot,

(Describer) Drew:

you know, now that I'm blind. So this is a pretty cool, again, to come through and experience all this stuff. It's a lot cooler actually being able to touch it than just listen to an audio description.

(Describer) Wearing gloves, he touches a sculpture.

(narrator) These opportunities to explore works of art through touch not only make works of art accessible to those who are blind or have low vision, but they enrich the experience for sighted visitors as well.

(Describer) A woman holds a reproduction a visitor touches.

...and then when you come down to its actual face...

(narrator) In order to accommodate a flexible format, we have a group of 'support facilitators' to work one-on-one with blind and low vision participants and their companions. As liaisons for the lead facilitators and advocates for the participants, they assist with tools, repeat information, and offer explanations to help individuals remain connected to the group dynamic.

(Describer) Barnet and two others each touch raised-line drawings with Braille labels.

In the past year, we have made great strides to adjust other public and school programs to make them more inclusive of adults and children who are blind or have low vision.

(Describer) The front of the museum is shown.

And as the word spreads about these initiatives, we are enjoying increased attendance by audiences with disabilities.

(Describer) Visitors paint.

Sighted and non-sighted visitors alike consistently respond positively to our inclusive programs. Most, if not all, visitors enjoy the opportunity to learn about art through different means, in different contexts, and through conversations with people who possess unique backgrounds and abilities. I may have optic nerve damage and so I've lost my vision

(Describer) Bobby Jackson:

in one eye and the other one's going--going quickly. But this here gives me more of a chance to work with it hands-on.

(narrator) We will continue to modify existing programs and create new programs based on our inclusive model, with the goal of becoming a truly inclusive museum, where all public programs welcome every visitor, regardless of his or her abilities.

(Describer) Bramblett:

It's a way of approaching art that opens it up to everybody. If you're a person with a disability, this program, it just falls in line. If you're a person that doesn't have a disability, it opens up things. It's just incredible. It engages all of the senses. So it's a way of--just sort of a visceral kind of engagement with art.

(Describer) Title: SMU Meadows Museum – An Inclusive Art Museum. Funding to make this educational program accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education through the Described and Captioned Media Program. Visit the DCMP online at dcmp.org.

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Meadows Museum is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. It houses masterpieces by some of the world's greatest artists and boasts one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain. The museum embarked on a process to create meaningful experiences for groups with mixed abilities, and they have developed an inclusive approach so all visitors engage and learn from the works of art. Their inclusive approach includes the use of description, multidisciplinary connections, and multi-sensory activities.

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