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Celebrating Art Beyond Sight: The Value of Creating and Appreciating Art for Those with Low Vision

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photo courtesy of Art Beyond Sightphoto courtesy of Art Beyond SightIn October, museums and other cultural organizations throughout the U.S. and the world celebrate the 10th annual Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month. The goal: "making pictorial literacy and access to the world of art a reality for all blind people."

Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel, photo courtesy of Art Beyond SightElisabeth Salzhauer Axel, photo courtesy of Art Beyond SightThe organization Art Education for the Blind was founded by museum educator Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel 25 years ago when her grandmother, an artist and art lover, began losing her sight. Those efforts have expanded greatly and grown into the organization, Art Beyond Sight (ABS), a collaborative of museums, and cultural and educational institutions, which support one another in their efforts to provide myriad ways into the art world for those with low vision or blindness. Accessibility tools include general tools for those with low vision such as universal design, braille/large print, and tactile graphics and maps, and learning tools to provide access to artwork such as touch tours, verbal description and tactile diagrams of the space. ABS' rich website also explores art-making as a way to both express oneself and learn about art.

photo courtesy of Art Beyond Sightphoto courtesy of Art Beyond SightEvery couple of years, Art Beyond Sight and New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsor an international conference of educators, museum personnel and researchers to explore new advances in different ways of learning, particularly centered around museums and art. This year's conference, Multimodal Approaches to Learning, takes place October 26-28 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I had not thought much about art education for those with vision loss until our library presented a Low Vision and Blindness Resource Day in June 2011, which included a panel of three artists with low vision discussing why and how they create art. One of the participating artists, Fotis Flevotomos, was recently awarded a Fulbright grant which enabled him to come to New York City where he is being hosted by the New York Public Library as a Visiting Artist.

Ambassador Daniel Bennett Smith (l.) congratulates Fotis Flevotomos on being selected as a Fulbright ArtistAmbassador Daniel Bennett Smith (l.) congratulates Fotis Flevotomos on being selected as a Fulbright ArtistWe welcome Fotis Flevotomos, and know he will be a great asset to the library and the wider cultural community in spreading the important word about the value of art for all — especially those with low vision.

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