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How The Met Celebrates Disability Through Art

All museums and galleries agree that accessibility is important in a museum space. But it is something that is difficult to achieve. Budgets are tight, and it can be difficult to know how best to create programming and events that would be suitable for an array of disabilities and accessibility needs.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken a comprehensive view of its accessibility initiative, looking at how they can make every aspect of a museum visit more accessible. Part of their initiative is creating accessible programming. Jamie Song and Rebecca McGinnis from The Met spoke about two of these programs, Met Discoveries and an art class for blind or partially-blind visitors at the Creative Museums Summit recently.

Here’s a little of what they shared.

Met Discoveries

The Met Discoveries program is designed for children with autism and developmental disorders. The program has been in place for 35 years and has seen participants graduate from the child’s Met Discoveries program to adult Met Discoveries programs.

These classes offer multi-sensory experiences and encourage tactile exploration and art creation. Family and friends are encouraged to participate in order to create a safe and comfortable environment for participants.

The Met Discoveries workshops focus on creativity, but a positive side effect has been that participants have a safe environment to practice social skills.

Art workshops for blind or partially sighted adults

When The Met were creating their art workshops for the blind and partially sighted museum visitors, they surveyed participants to ask what kind of art they wanted to create. The feedback they received was that there were plenty of art workshops that focused on 3D artforms like ceramics or sculpture, but there were no 2D art workshops. The feedback was that participants would value drawing or painting workshops.

Workshop participants touching a Degas statue

Participants in the Picture This! Workshop | Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 2007, The Met launched the first art workshop exploring creative processes for the blind and partially-blind. Some of the techniques they used were:

  • Double-blind contour drawings where participants feel the object with one hand and simultaneously draw what they are feeling with their other hand.
  • Non-traditional drawing methods that combined a mix of textured materials with traditional drawing materials.
  • Descriptive drawing is where participants visit the gallery and draw based on a description of an artwork.

The goal of the workshop is to allow participants to engage with a wide range of works, inspirations, materials, and approaches. It is focused on the process of making art and experiencing diverse media rather than creating a perfect work of art. These workshops have challenged the perceptions of how people with limited or no vision can engage with and create visual art.

Jamie Song and Rebecca McGinnis from The Metropolitan Museum of Art spoke at the Creative Museums Summit in June 2022. To find out how you can watch all the presentations from this event on-demand click here.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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