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National Museum of African Art "Artful Animals" Exhibition Includes Activities for People Who Are Blind

WASHINGTON, DC.- Tactile and descriptive experiences for visitors who are blind or have low vision will be offered in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art’s “Artful Animals” exhibition. The new family-friendly exhibit opens July 1 and continues through Feb. 21, 2010.

“Artful Animals” features works by traditional and contemporary artists, objects from the museum’s hands-on teaching collection and a special activity area for young visitors. Part of a broader Smithsonian collaboration, the exhibition is accompanied by complementary music and dance performances, storytelling and other free and ticketed activities at the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the National Zoo, The Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater and the National Museum of Natural History. Programming is sponsored by the Smithsonian School Programming Fund.

“Research tells us that museum visitors learn in many different ways using senses beyond the visual,” said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the museum and a former trustee of Gallaudet University. “It is our hope that the activities we have developed for people who are blind or have low vision will heighten the museum experience for ALL our visitors.”

The museum’s accessible activities were developed by Megan Becker, a graduate student in museum education at George Washington University. “It is still rare that visitors to an art museum are invited to touch the objects,” said Deborah Stokes, museum educator, who worked with Becker on the project. “With this exhibition we offer them that opportunity and much more.”

The exhibition includes:

A Braille guide with visual descriptions and tactile graphics of eight objects in the exhibition. The guide will be available at the information desk in the entrance pavilion.

A downloadable podcast of verbal descriptions that will be available in audio format on the museum’s Web site,

Six touchable objects in the activity area from the museum’s hands-on teaching collection. Additional hands-on objects can be accessed through a docent tour.

Monthly docent tours for people who are blind or have low vision. Advance reservations are required. Contact (202) 633-4633 for scheduling and information.

An audio recording of the sound made when a slit gong (a log drum used throughout Africa) is struck with a rod. The audio is accessed by pushing a button next to a large bovine-shaped slit gong in the exhibition.

In developing the accessible activities, the museum consulted with two members of the D.C. Council of the Blind: retired social worker Marilyn Lutter and Janiece Kent, a former District of Columbia Public School teacher who has been working with blind and low-vision students for more than 35 years. “Opportunities like this, when they come along, are like gifts,” Kent said. “The museum should be applauded for reaching out to visually impaired audiences and for waking up the tactile sense for sighted visitors.”

National Museum of African Art | National Postal Museum | the National Zoo | The Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater and the National Museum of Natural History |

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