WAYS OF SEEING ART SYMPOSUM
Hosted by Shape Arts and The Tate Modern on 24th February
My name is Fae Kilburn, I'm a partially sighted artist who was invited to attend the symposium and write about it.
The symposium started with the six speakers (Zoe Partington, Anna Murray, Craig Ashley, Tony Heaton, Louise Fryer and Vidar) talking about their different experiences with audio description within the arts.
Craig demonstrated how different voices on audio description can have a huge impact on how you perceive a piece of work, he used Vanley Burke's photographic exhibition at the Mac as an example. For me this was a great example of Art and AD working together.
Louise talked about how she and Zoe had experimented with sound instead of words to describe a picture fot AD. Example, picture of a harbour with the sounds of boats chiming as they crash about on the sea in the wind. I personally really like the idea of using sound in AD and I think its a great addition because art in all its forma is an emotive experience, it can often transport you somewhere else or make you feel so may emotions, from fear, happiness, sadness to anger and if you don't have the right AD you wont experience this.
I also think that having something for people to touch whether its a smaller version of the sculpture or examples of the materials used by the artists, so that we can feel the texture of the sculpture or even how textured the oil painting is compared to a water colour and for those like me who are partially sighted, they can bring the examples close to their eyes and see the colour and textures, rather then living in a flat blurred world.
Paints all have their own very unique smell, as do all art materials. Using as many of our senses as possible is the way to fully enjoy art and feel included not excluded.
A question and answer session followed the symposium, we started talking about AD and how different people respond to different styles of AD, it was felt that there needs to be more layers to AD so you have a choice of voices, styles and sounds depending on what works for you.
We also spoke about how difficult so many websites are to navigate and that the access section is often hard to find. Accessibility is no good being an after thought, it needs to be done at the start of all planning, websites also need more AD. The downloadable large print guides are a great idea because the text used in galleries is difficult for partially sighted people to read but they also need more AD versions online to.
There is so much technology at our fingertips , making our world more accessible but most galleries need to catch up and utilise this technology.
Not being able to get close enough to exhibits was something else that came up through out the day. I myself struggle with this all the time , I've had sight difficulties my whole life and I have been visiting galleries since I was a child but I am finding it harder to access and appreciate art now more then ever, due to all the barriers that are up, many of which are virtually invisible to me.
The galleries say that there are more people visiting now then before and in order to protect the work they need the barriers but do they really need to be far away from the work? I know that certain work on loan to galleries comes with insurance restrictions and this is another reason for barriers.
Surely there must be some happy medium between protecting the work and it being accessible to all?
Galleries like the Tate Britain, RA and the National Portrait gallery do handling sessions and AD tours with their main exhibitions but for me this is just a starting point to move forward.
The points raised for me throughout the day were that websites need to be easier to navigate, that not everyone responds to the same style of audio description and in many ways galleries are less accessible now then they were before.
For accessibility to really work it needs to start from the top of organisations, having someone who is open minded and who has a good understanding of what inclusion and accessibility really is.
If galleries employed more disabled staff we would progress forward quicker, we understand our needs better then anybody else, we also have a lot to offer.
If an organisation is building a website, employ a sight impaired web designer, they will build a web site accessible to everyone, if you need art work about disabilities use artist who are living with these disabilities and if you are running touch tours employ sight impaired individuals. We can learn so much from each other by working together.
The Pen museum is the perfect example of how employing the right staff works.
The symposium was a fantastic day and opportunity for us all to get together and talk about AD and how to improve access to galleries and to listen to each others different perspectives. I hope there is more events for us all to learn from each other because this is the way forward.
By Fae Kilburn
2nd March 2017
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