“Please Touch the Art Gently” is not your typical sign posted in an art gallery. But, that is the message in a new exhibit at the Springfield Art Association from June 1-29. “What Art Feels Like” features metal and wood sculptures, paper, fiber, collage, glass, woodturning, ceramics and paintings made by 14 Illinois artists and three artists from Iowa, Oklahoma and Colorado. All visitors are invited to touch the art.
Rosemary Buffington curated the exhibit on behalf of the Educational Center for the Visually Impaired, where Buffington is a member of the board. She formerly taught art at New Berlin High School for 37 years. Dick Bilinsky, a local doctor and a sculptor, was her inspiration for this exhibit. Bilinsky wanted to create some sculpture for cancer patients to touch in order to find comfort, and Buffington asked Bilinsky if he ever thought about allowing visually impaired individuals to touch his art. That planted the seed, and Buffington researched how other museums include the visually impaired in their programs.
She also discovered Ingrid Lilligren, who is head of the art department at Iowa State University. At Iowa State Lilligren made a disc with the name of an exhibit spelled in Braille. Buffington invited Lilligren to create the exhibit title display in the gallery with a ceramic disc spelling “What Art Feels Like” in Braille.
The Educational Center for the Visually Impaired, located on Hedley Road in Springfield, teaches classes to the visually impaired free of charge. Students learn how to use technology, and classes also include life skills, Braille and art. More information about the center is at www.edcentervi.org. Buffington proposed this exhibit to Betsy Dollar, executive director of the Springfield Art Association, who was receptive. Accessibility for all is a significant issue for museums, and more and more museums and art galleries are working to offer special exhibits and programs for the visually impaired.
Labels and text on the walls in the gallery are in large print and in Braille. Rasha Said, founder of Sensible Innovations, has attached ibeacons on the art. Activated audio tours can be accessed through AWARE App Audible Wayfinding, and with earbuds visitors can listen to a description of each piece.
Artists represented in the exhibit are Felicia Olin, Jim Edgecomb, Corrin Smithson McWhirter, Jeff Williams, Bob Dixon, Cydne LaBonte, Dick Bilinsky, Marco Mulder and John Hayes from Springfield; Michael Blankenship from Chatham, Wiley Jenkins from Sherman; Bryon Hartley from Dawson; Rick Harney from Normal; Jim Johnson from Charleston; Ingrid Lilligren from Ames, Iowa; Amy Sanders from Norman, Oklahoma; and Ray Tomasso from Engelwood, Colorado. Some of the artists are visually impaired.
Buffington has been planning the exhibit for over a year. She has had a lifelong passion for art and is excited about the opportunity this exhibit presents to make art accessible to the visually impaired, while also giving all visitors the uncommon chance to actually touch art in an art gallery. She is delighted that students from the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Jacksonville will be visiting the Springfield Art Association to experience the exhibit.
What Art Feels Like, June 1-29, Springfield Art Association, M.G. Nelson Family Gallery, 700 N. Fourth Street, Springfield. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Opening reception is June 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.springfieldart.org.
Karen Ackerman Witter is a freelance writer, former associate director of the Illinois State Museum and a longtime member of the Springfield Art Association.