A new program makes works of art more accessible to visitors who are blind or have low vision.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts recently joined a select group of American museums offering tactile-map art tours to visitors who are blind or have low vision. Now visitors can feel a raised physical “map” of Vincent van Gogh’s Olive Trees, and Cadzi Cody’s Elk Hide with Scenes of Plains Indian Life while a specially trained docent verbally describes the artwork in vivid detail. Dots, dashes, and solid fields of raised or smooth surfaces give the user a sense of perspective and make clear relationships between the whole work of art and specific details of the piece, allowing in-depth exploration of these key works through words and touch.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ free admission policy publicly demonstrates the museum’s mission of bringing art to life for everyone. Just as important in fulfilling that mission, but perhaps not so widely known, are the many services, such as the one described above, which the Institute offers to people with disabilities in an effort to make its programs and exhibitions accessible to all visitors.
Accommodations are noticeable even before visitors enter the museum. The parking ramp adjacent to the museum, and the lot on 24th Street and 3rd Avenue both feature accessible parking spaces. Van parking as well as visitor drop-off and pick-up can be conveniently managed at the 3rd Avenue circle drive.
The museum is barrier free. A quick stop at the Welcome Desk in the 3rd Avenue lobby allows visitors to pick up a wheelchair to use free of charge during their visit (wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis, or you can reserve one by phone).
The Information Desk staff happily assists visitors who wish to use a TDD telephone, get copies of select brochures in large print or Braille, or borrow Assistive Listening Devices to amplify any public programs, lectures, and tours.
In addition to Assistive Listening Devices, the Institute offers an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted tour on the first Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. ASL tours may be arranged at other times as well; visitors should call at least four weeks in advance to arrange a tour.
Visitors who are blind or have low vision may also request an individual guided “touch tour” of select objects in the collection. During touch tours, both the guide and the visitor wear cotton gloves to examine together pre-selected works of sculpture and decorative arts. Museum curators have approved specific objects, among them Picasso’s sculpture Baboon and Young and Thorvaldsen’s marble Ganymede and the Eagle, for touching during these specialized tours.
The museum also features fully-accessible restrooms and a private facility in which a companion may assist a visitor. All of the services mentioned are also available for students with disabilities. To request these or other custom services, visitors may visit www.artsmia.org to access a Request for Accommodation Form in advance of their visit. The staff at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts looks forward to making everyone’s visit a comfortable, welcoming experience.
Kaylen Whitmore is Associate Director of External Affairs at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.