Re-examining “Disability” at the MoMA

Museum exhibits do not always provide material that is accessible to all visitors. Museum visitors who are blind, have dementia or Alzheimer’s, or have learning disabilities often find it hard to use museum exhibits and programs. However, museums are beginning to address the problem of accessibility with a variety of creative programs. The Museum of Modern Art in New York provides two programs which serve as an example of ways in which audiences with disabilities can be engaged.

Meet Me at the MoMA is a program designed to engage visitors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Visitors and their caregivers are invited to examine works of art as a group, creating an environment that encourages them to share their perceptions of the art. This program aims to create enthusiasm for art, while encouraging unique and fun conversations between visitors and caregivers. The museum has also expanded the program to reach audiences across the nation by providing guides to help other museums establish their own art programs for visitors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. [1]

Create Ability is another program at the MoMA which is offered to youth and adult visitors with learning disabilities. Both groups are encouraged to look at art in the MoMA collection and then work on art projects of their own. Youth and their families may start by talking about a Jackson Pollack as a group, and then get up and create their own giant artwork using his splatter technique. Other programs focus on different art styles, including performance art and film. For instance, a workshop in 2012 focused on George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, and kids and their parents were invited to recreate their own moon video to be exhibited later in the museum. [2]

CreateAbility1
Create Ability visitors making their own art

The adult program similarly provides a valuable experience for visitors. One visitor’s sister explains the importance of the program to her and her brother in a video on the museum’s website:

“Once you become an adult it becomes hard to find things to do, so that’s why we love this program so much. It’s a struggle trying to find things that fit not only his needs but his age group. If I were to take my brother to the museum by myself and look at artwork I don’t think he gets the same experience as being in a group with peers that may have similar needs that he does.” [3]

Both visitors with disabilities and their families describe the value of these programs. An introductory video to Meet Me at the MoMA provides insights from the program, and you can see that visitors and their caregivers enjoy the ability to connect to their loved ones and the art. According to a New York University study of the program, visitors with Alzheimer’s have experienced improved self-worth and a positive outlook for many days after the program.  Similarly, the study found that caregivers felt less isolated because they were able to talk to others dealing with Alzheimer’s. [4]  One participant in the Create Ability exhibition (which featured visitor artwork) held in 2010 described his view of the program, saying that he and his mother enjoyed coming to the program and that it felt like home. The mother of another visitor expressed her view of Create Ability’s programming, stating:

“The most important comment of the weekend was Victoria telling us that she wished Friday evening ‘would never end’ and her pride in sharing her work with so many members of her family…” [5]

Informational material for both programs is provided on the site so that visitors and their families are prepared and feel like they can have a valuable experience. Additionally, both programs are free for registered visitors.

MoMA is one of many museums trying to make their content accessible to less traditional audiences. I think that museums are becoming valuable resources for visitors with disabilities and their families by providing programming that helps these visitors feel welcome in settings that they would traditionally feel alienated from. It will be interesting to see how these programs will find new ways to incorporate and inspire different audiences and provide meaningful experiences for visitors with disabilities and their families.

 

[1] http://www.moma.org/meetme/

[2] http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/03/02/create-ability-participants-take-a-trip-to-the-moon

[3] http://www.moma.org/learn/disabilities/developmental

[4] The study is not accessible at the current time, but http://blog.aarp.org/2012/02/02/alzheimers-art-therapy-moma/ and the MoMA website provide an overview of the findings

[5] http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/03/17/create-ability-an-exhibition-of-their-own

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