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Museum revives Hands Across Art tours to bring the collection alive for more visitors
BMA has long been a national leader in Museum tours for visually impaired visitors.

BIRMINGHAM, ALA.- The Birmingham Museum of Art will renew its Hands Across Art program starting next month, with a new emphasis on providing innovative and exciting experiences for visually impaired adults every second Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

“Previously, the visually impaired program offered two options: one tour focusing on European and American art, and another covering our African, Pre-Columbian, and Asian collections,” says Samantha Kelly, curator of education. “The new model allows our docents to be more creative about how they present the collections, so that a visitor could potentially get a new art experience with a fresh perspective each month.”

BMA has long been a national leader in Museum tours for visually impaired visitors. Specially trained volunteer tour guides will present the Museum’s permanent collection through verbal descriptions, and three-dimensional tactile models based on original works of art and sculpture.

Often the tours will be enhanced by related music and art-making projects to make the experience multi-sensory. “Touch is a primary way that people with vision loss experience the visual arts. Our docents, though, work to engage more than just that sense,” explains Kristi McMillan, assistant curator of education for visitor engagement. “They use detailed verbal description to add to the tactile experience, and incorporate sound – such as period music – to help evoke a place, time, feeling, or emotion.”

The hour-long Hands Across Art tours will be free, and geared toward adults with a wide range of vision loss. The first of the new tours will be April 14. Animals in Asian Art:

Gods, Protectors, and Companions will discuss how the art of Asia gives us clues about the importance of animals in everyday and spiritual life. Visitors will explore the shapes artists used to create creatures both enigmatic – a godly elephant-boy, ferocious lion-dogs – and familiar. The tour will include music from various Asian cultures and touching the materials the artists used: stone, wood, clay, and jade.

On May 12, the tour will reveal three of the BMA’s best known and most loved landscapes. First, Canaletto’s A View of the Grand Canal will evoke the sights, smells, and sounds of Venice in 1730. Next, Claude Monet’s Foggy Morning in Pourville will capture the master impressionist’s emotional response to the white chalk cliffs of Normandy. Finally, Albert Bierstadt’s grand Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California will illustrate the pristine natural beauty that lured countless adventurers to the American West.

On June 9, How the West Was Won will explore art related to how America’s drive to populate the West resulted in gains and losses for both sides of the conflict. The tour will consider the complex implications of Manifest Destiny, beginning with the golden promises of Looking Down Yosemite Valley and ending with James Earle Frasier’s tragic End of the Trail. Participants will be able to experience two original sculptures on this tour by wearing gloves and actually touching them.

“The BMA is a hub for engaging with the visual arts that serves a vast portion of our state,” says McMillan. “It is our mission to provide an unparalleled cultural and educational experience to a diverse community. That community includes people with a wide range of abilities, and we hope that our visually impaired program will open our doors a little wider for all of our audiences.”

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