Categories
accessibility exhibits publications

Redefine/ABLE exhibition catalog

I begin this post by quoting from an announcement for a new book that contains essays that I co-authored with my excellent colleagues and one piece that I wrote as a sole author.

“Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility aims to inform audiences about disability issues, to share the challenges and success stories of those with disabilities, and to identify ways we can create more accessible, inclusive spaces.”

This book includes content from the Redefine/ABLE exhibition hosted by the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture as well as essays contributed by project collaborators. Instructions to get a copy are at the end of this post.

The Redefine/ABLE exhibition was a collaboration between University of Maryland graphic design students and members of the disability community in Maryland. It was scheduled to open in two physical spaces, the University of Maryland, College Park, and in downtown Baltimore, in mid-March 2020. Like so many events, the physical exhibitions were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Redefine/ABLE was also scheduled as an online exhibition to open in March 2020, but the pandemic delayed the website launch to July 2020. Between March and July 2020, many of the contributors wrote, or re-wrote their essays in response to the pandemic.

Two essays describe the online exhibition and associated programs that were held in July and August of 2020.

•            An Exhibition Redefined by a Pandemic by Audra Buck-Coleman

•            Redefining Redefine/ABLE: From Access to Inclusion at the Peale by Nancy Proctor

Content Written Before the Pandemic

The exhibition panels designed by University of Maryland Students present what they learned about accessibility for people with disabilities in a pre-pandemic world (fall 2019 semester through March 2020). The panel titles are:

•            Discover/ABLE: What does it mean to be disabled?

•            Deny/ABLE: What isn’t accessible?

•            Access/ABLE: How are objects and spaces inclusive?

•            Confront/ABLE: What does it mean to be ableist?

•            Relate/ABLE: What do we have in common?

One essay does not mention the pandemic. It is “Listen Very Carefully” by Ruth Lozner

Content Written During the Pandemic

As we prepared for the website launch in July 2020, we wrote two essays that expanded on the exhibition themes.

“The interconnected-ness of Covid-19 to discrimination against the disabled” gives examples of pandemic responses that had negative effects on people with disabilities. Both Audra Buck-Coleman and I have undergraduate degrees in journalism. Writing this piece on current events drew on that training.

“Bearing witness to the ableism embedded within the pandemic” is a Q&A between Audra, me, and a third colleague, Robin Marquis, offering our personal reflections on this topic.

Contributors discussed how access to museum exhibits changed during the pandemic. I wrote a first draft of my essay “Please Do Touch the Art!” in February 2020. Later, I expanded the essay to incorporate my thoughts about ways museums could continue to display touch objects during the pandemic.

I also recommend the essay by Kevin Bacon and Lara Perry “Technology, Covid-19, and accessibility: Challenges and opportunities for museums”.

Finally, Audra Buck-Coleman, NALIYAH KAYA, and I described “Five Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During Covid-19”.

How to Get This Book

This book is available as a free download from The Peale Center’s website  A pay-for-print version via Blurb.com will be available soon. Check the same link for an order form.

Categories
exhibits

Paintings in Sight and Smell

A recent exhibition “Smell the Art: Fleeting – Scents in Colour” at the Mauritshuis in Amsterdam, was advertised as engaging the sense of smell to enhance the visual aspects of viewing the art. Although I did not travel to Europe to experience the show first-hand, I found it mentioned in various museum-related newsletters.

The idea of adding scent to an exhibit is intriguing, but I wonder how much more enriching the show would have been if it had also included tactile and audio elements. This post explores my questions about the choice of smell as the highlighted sensory output. My knowledge of the show is limited to the information on the museum’s website, and I do not know all the design considerations that shaped its’ creation.

Museum guests were encouraged to experience smells by using different “scent dispensers”. The smells included “a clean linen cupboard, bleaching fields, ambergris, myrrh and … the foul-smelling canals.”.

The exhibition included 50 paintings and drawings. The scents invoked by these artworks were grouped into different categories including:

•            “health and hygiene”

•            “scent in religion” (incense)

•            “scents inside and outdoors” (aromas of newly-discovered spices)

I imagine that If I attended this exhibition, I would have been left with very fleeting impressions of the artwork. The scent, by itself, would not have provided enough information for me to understand the artwork. I would not have known who, or what, was pictured in each painting.

If I were designing a similar exhibit, I would have included visual descriptions of them (accessed in some form of audio tour or mobile guide). Then, I would have included touch objects like a model canal boat, or a church bell, etc. Maybe I would have added audio effects triggered by motion sensors in front of the paintings.

My comments are not intended as a critique of the exhibit. I am just brainstorming hypothetical design elements.

As it was conceived, the exhibition made art approachable from two of the five human senses. In my opinion, adding tactile and audio components would have made the show much more immersive.

In summary, I commend the designers for adding a second sensory output to the experience of art. I hope that “Smell the Art: Fleeting – Scents in Colour” will be the first of many multi-sensory art exhibitions displayed at large, well-known museums. I hope that its’ successors will incorporate tactile and audio outputs that engage visitors in a more truly multi-sensory experience.