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In Touch with Art: St Dunstan's Champion Access to Art for the Visually Impaired

In Touch with Art: St Dunstan's Champion Access to Art for the Visually Impaired

On 28th and 29th November, after over a year of planning, the 'In Touch with Art' Conference took place at the V&A. Devised and sponsored by St Dunstan's, In Touch with Art was the first collaboration between St Dunstan's, The V&A and Goldsmiths.

The aim of the conference was to empower arts organisations to engage creatively with visually impaired people through the visual arts

Opened by St Dunstan's Chairman, Captain Michael Gordon-Lennox and Chief Executive Robert Leader, the conference was a truly international event, with over 200 delegates attending from a range of countries including Australia, Egypt, Canada, Qatar, America, Slovenia, France, Ireland and Scotland. Organisations represented included; RNIB, The Arts Council, Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, University of Fine Art Berlin, Whitechapel Gallery, and many more.

Delegates had the opportunity to hear personal and professional perspectives from a diverse range of international artists, academics and staff from leading museums and art galleries. The conference was also an opportunity to raise the profile of St Dunstan's and the work we do. Over the two days, delegates learned about models of best practice for interpreting and teaching arts for a visually impaired audience. They explored experiences of practicing art with visual impairment, learned about psychological processing and cognition through the senses, and how people interact with art in museum and gallery settings. Attendees commented on the excellent conference programme and were impressed by the unique opportunity to hear from so many experts in the field of art and visual impairment.

On the first day of the conference, the Craft Workshop Team ran a practical workshop based on the working methods at St Dunstan's. The workshop was so popular that, at the last minute, additional delegates asked to join the session. It received overwhelmingly positive feedback from those who attended. Some of the work by St Dunstaners was also on display, showing what can be achieved.

Sarah Jarron, conference organiser and Craft Supervisor at St Dunstan's said of St Dunstan's involvement, "St Dunstan's understands the immense benefits of accessing art for people with visual impairment. The Craft Team works to help individuals devise projects which meet their therapeutic and creative needs and provides training so that people learn skills they can go on to develop further themselves. This conference illustrates that art does not have to be seen to be appreciated."

ROVI (Rehabilitation Officer for Visually Impaired People) Supervisor Ian Hebborn spoke during the conference, giving an overview of visual impairment and functional vision. He was also on hand to give training and refresher tips on sighted guiding for all St Dunstan's staff acting as stewards.

Leading up to the conference, the Craft Team had also been working incredibly hard to finalise a tactile sculpture to be displayed at the V&A depicting the various crafts and skills taught within the craft department. The sculpture attracted many admiring glances from museum staff and public alike.

Other staff from across St Dunstan's also attended the event, acting as stewards and sighted guides, ensuring that people found their way to the sessions, to lunch and out at the end of the day.

Caro Howell, Head of Education and Public Events at the Whitechapel Gallery and conference Chair summed up the essence of the conference in sharing and helping shape best practice, 'To make a difference you have to be part of significant discourse and discourse has to be one step ahead of practice.'

Comments from Keynote Speakers:

Professor Linda Pring, conference speaker and Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London said, "We examined research into the psychological aspects of visual impairment, looking both at how people interpret objects and tactile graphics, and how visual impairment impacts on imagery and imagination. We hope this can help us develop better ways to present material for art education, and have a better understanding of how therapeutic processes can emerge through creativity."

Barry Ginley, Disability and Access Officer at the V&A and conference speaker added, "This conference provided an invaluable opportunity for experts from diverse fields to explore creative ways to bring the arts to a wider visually impaired audience."

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