David Kingsbury is a guide at the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) in Boston, which is surprising because he is blind. You might think that an art museum was the last place someone who had lost all his sight in mid-career would want to be! Why go somewhere where it’s completely visual after losing vision?
“Once I got hooked I really got hooked. The people here are very good. They really put themselves out to welcome you.”
Of course there are lots of kinds of museums – sports, science, aircraft, costumes, the Old West – there’s something to interest everyone, and at many of them the models or machines are interactive.
“Different people when they come here are going to have different experiences, and like different things just as much as people with sight.”
Lots of museums and art galleries have audio guides intended for all visitors. The audio guides hang around your neck. They generally tell you about interesting or famous pieces at the museum, not about everything. This means you have to find a number beside the item – which is fine if you can see! You punch in that number and a description of the picture or sculpture starts in your headphones. Sometimes it’s the artist or creator talking. Sometimes it’s a description of the style or period of the art.
At the MFA, and this is rare, you can also change to a different track and listen to a physical description of the sculpture or painting.
But David isn’t so impressed, “I would lose a lot if I was just walking around with a little machine. I see technology as a supplement to the social interaction with the guides.”
David got back to enjoying himself at the art gallery three or four years after he lost his sight. This was fast compared with my own slow acceptance, but maybe he responded quickly because he went on his own. Going to museums alone when you have a sight impairment is like traveling alone by air. If you prepare by phoning ahead, making sure they know you need help, you often get a lot of special care and attention.
“When I could see, I preferred to go alone. Now it’s a very different experience. The people here are really great, and it’s a very nice sociable event.”
David does say that he didn’t get much out of the first accessible tour of the MFA he went on. But the next time he chose a tour on an artist he liked and knew about, and it made a big difference.
“I enjoy having painting described to me by someone who knows a lot about art.”
The tours are part of the “Feeling for Form” program where blind and visually impaired visitors can put on gloves and touch sculptures while a guide describes them, and encourages the visitors to feel the forms and textures.
“Often when we are touching the pieces, other visitors will ask if they can touch them too – regular sighted visitors. Everyone likes to touch things. In fact you can only touch the exhibits through the accessibility program and with a guide.”
David is one of these guides. He also trains the other guides in how to talk about works of art to people who can’t see.
Sometimes you can find a completely new way of enjoying something you loved but thought you had lost. When you do it’s often more involved – more hands on!
For more information call Valerie Burrows at (617)369 -3302. Or send an email to email@example.com