1/3/2013 - Have you heard? The Currier Museum of Art has introduced audio as a new way to appreciate the art on display. The new mobile tour is captured on a handheld device and offers detailed, visual descriptions, as well as historic and symbolic context to a collection of pieces on display at the museum.
Part of the effort was to make the museum more accessible to blind or visually impaired museum visitors.
“Prior to this, you would have had to go through [the museum] with the assistance of a sighted person escorting you through the museum,” said Guy Woodland, senior vice president of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. “But by having these descriptions [created] by the people who work in the field of art, you get a whole lot more detail, and consistent detail, at that.”
But it’s also something that people without visual impairments will enjoy, as I discovered through an audio-led tour at the museum last week. This new element adds another way to better see and understand the work on display.
There are three different tours you can embark on while using these multimedia devices. One is a general introduction to the 16 works, each of which is about 90 seconds long. They’re written by tour guides, education staff and curators and encourage visitors to look closely and learn from the objects, articulating the historic context and symbolism of each piece.
The second tour provides more visual descriptions. These descriptions, recorded by Virginia Prescott, host of New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth program, were developed in partnership with the New Hampshire Association for the Blind.
These are three-minute stops that give very detailed, visual descriptions of the art, meant for you to build the work in your mind. They were written by the tour guides, education staff and curators, too, but members of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind worked with them to ensure that they were suitable for viewers who couldn’t see or couldn’t see well.
As a person who is blind or visually impaired, Woodland looked for the details in the descriptions.
“We asked, could we visually see the concept in our minds? For example, you wouldn’t say ‘There’s a blue sky.’ You’d say, ‘There are white, fluffy clouds, with a blue sky in the background,’ describing the color and shape of the objects,” Woodland said. “What we’re looking for is detail, so that the image comes clear.”
In “Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra,” for instance, the audio points out details that I missed looking at the painting in first glance: the pig’s head on the table, the dishes the subjects are clutching, the black and white dog in the lower right-hand corner. They’re mapped out using clock times as reference points.
It seemed more efficient, too; some of the paintings are already accompanied by textual information alongside the work, but the audio makes the experience more enjoyable. You don’t have to look back and forth, from text to painting; you can gaze at the brush strokes while listening to how they revolutionized the way people painted.
The third tour option has the same content, but in addition to the audio, you can also enjoy the tour through the text that will appear on the mobile device.
The project has been in the works a year now, said Leah Fox, director of public programs at the Currier, but the idea began several years ago.
“We were thinking about how to engage visitors in different ways. We’ve had a mobile tour through cell phones, but we wanted to move beyond that,” she said. “The tour is designed to encourage people to spend time looking closely at each artwork.”
This is a small beginning, but the intent is to add as many pieces from the permanent exhibit to the audio tour.
“By doing this here in New Hampshire, they’ll be able to reach out to other museums who haven’t done this yet. They’re a leader, in that respect,” Woodland said.