The appreciation of art can be a powerful point of human connection. People come to MoMA from all over the world, each with rich, diverse personal experiences. A moment in front of an artwork at MoMA could be the spark for two seemingly different people to share a connection, conversation, and inspiration. Access to these fundamentally enriching experiences is imperative. MoMA’s commitment to access for all is embedded in the history of the institution itself, beginning with one of the Museum’s earliest innovations in art education Read more
Posts by Francesca Rosenberg
“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”—Frank Lloyd Wright
How many people can say they learned to see at the age of 94? Vivian Smith did. At a recent event at MoMA she said, “I’m going to be thinking about art in a different way now…at 94! I have learned to take my time, to look, and to see, which I had not really done in all of these years.”
Vivian is a member of a collective of older New Yorkers convened by MoMA to advise us on Prime Time, a new outreach and programming initiative aimed to increase participation of people ages 65 and up. Read more
At MoMA we strive to enable all visitors to find meaning and pleasure in modern and contemporary art. This includes people who are blind or have low vision, who are able to enjoy the Museum’s collection and special exhibitions via touch and visual description through Touch Tours, via MoMA Audio: Visual Descriptions, and in our monthly Art inSight program.
In the free Art inSight program—which takes place on Tuesdays when the Museum is closed to the public, so as to avoid the crowds—specially trained MoMA educators share detailed visual descriptions of works of art. By providing vivid descriptions of key visual elements, the educator aims to paint a picture in the mind’s eye, engaging a viewer who is blind or has low vision. These visual elements include the standard wall-label information, a general overview of the work itself (including size subject, form, and color), and details about the artist’s technique. After program participants are given the chance to ask questions to further refine their visual understanding of the work, the educator shares art-historical information about the work and facilitates a dialogue among the group, eliciting their thoughts and reactions.
Last month Art inSight focused on MoMA’s Cindy Sherman retrospective. Once in the exhibition, the group took seats in front of Sherman’s Untitled #479 (1975) (above). MoMA educator Joan Pachner described Sherman in her guise, and one participant commented that the subject of transforming identity was “easy to relate to.” Another person with a guide dog said that each picture is like a short story. When Joan asked the group why they thought Sherman chooses not to title her works, someone said it was because “she wants us to use our imaginations.” When viewing the Untitled Film Stills, the group spoke of the experience of living in New York, where each neighborhood has a distinct feel, story, and identity.
Joan gave the participants time to get up close to the works to use any residual vision they might have to look more closely. In the gallery with Sherman’s “centerfolds” series, after looking at the photo of a sad girl on the couch staring at the phone, someone asked, “Why doesn’t she pick up the phone and just call HIM?” Everyone laughed.
The group was running out of time, so we had to wrap up. In front of the elevators, a woman thanked Joan, telling her, “With your guidance, I have a new appreciation for the show.” If the encouragement of an ever-deeper understanding and enjoyment of modern and contemporary art is central to MoMA’s mission, then the goal of this program is to enhance and enrich that experience for a wider audience. One need not have eyesight to see. For proof, spend a few minutes with this video (with or without audio description).
If you or anyone you know might be interested in joining us for the Art inSight program, visit our website or contact us at email@example.com.
One of the reasons I enjoy working in Access Programs at MoMA is that we get to experience things with our program participants that other visitors would like to do, but can’t. For instance, visitors who are blind and partially sighted have the opportunity to touch sculptures on display in the galleries and in the Sculpture Garden. Who wouldn’t love to get their hands on an original bronze bust by Picasso or Matisse? Another bonus for Access Programs participants is that many of our programs are scheduled on Tuesdays, when the Museum is otherwise closed to the public. Ah, to be in a room with Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and not have to dodge the crowds!
This is exactly the situation when we hold our monthly Meet Me at MoMA program, an interactive gallery tour for people with dementia and their care partners. During these ninety-minute sessions, the Museum becomes theirs, and the quiet galleries are the perfect setting for MoMA’s educators to lead the individuals in the group in sharing their thoughts and interpretations of artworks from MoMA’s collection or special exhibitions. The stimulation and socialization that are fundamental to the MoMA program not only help to improve behavior and mood, but also dramatically improve quality of life. I have experienced numerous situations in which people come to MoMA in a non-communicative, anxious, or withdrawn state. For many, a transformation occurs in the galleries. Art can tap into old memories. It was in front of Marc Chagall’s I and the Village that a man with Alzheimer’s disease shared a story about the cemetery where his mother is buried, information that his wife had never been aware of. Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie led another man to talk about his days as a single man enjoying the nightclubs in New York in the 1940s—just like Mondrian himself. Other comments reveal how the art stimulates the participants in the here and now. For example, a woman with dementia spoke insightfully about how the colors and light in Claude Monet’s Water Lilies were inviting and joyful to her. After leading many art programs with people with dementia, I have seen firsthand that satisfying emotional and intellectual experiences are possible on both sides of the care partnership.
We wanted to share these meaningful experiences and results with a broader audience, so Museum educators worked with Graphic Design and Digital Media staff to develop a publication and website that would reflect the experience of the Meet Me at MoMA program. These resources also provide additional information in the form of interviews with experts in the fields of art, aging, and Alzheimer’s; findings from our evidence-based research study; and guides for developing and implementing art programs in a variety of settings.
I encourage you to take a look at the site!