19 December 2015

Seinfeld S2E5: The Apartment

No, this is not about the Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine classic film. It's about misogyny and sharing space with women (Elaine Benes namely). This episode made me sooooo angry!

04 December 2015

Proscrastination // Motivators

Me "hard at work"
It's Friday night, it's finals. My second-to-last finals... ever. I'm holed up in my bedroom "office" procrastinating by reading Cheryl Strayed's Brave Enough cover to cover with big bold tears welling up in my eyes. I've reached this point, so close to the mountaintop of the semester, but my legs are tired and my lungs hurt. I've cried more times than I can count. I've done a lot of meaningful journaling, and maybe, just maybe I stood up for myself in class when I thought a professor was being too critical. It felt good, though my cheeks were hot and my pits were dripping, it felt good and right to push through the tears, the anxiety, and the bullshit to know when to stand up for myself and call a spade a spade.

My procrastination tactics are kicking into high gear - I imagine that this is what it must be like to be a pregnant woman who is nesting. The end is near and yet, rather than focusing on the goal and the work that simply needs to be done, I'm scrubbing the base of my now sparkling toilet seat and going to the gym more than I have in the last 18 months. Somebody needs to sit me down and tell me, "Sandy, finish this paper."

In addition to my procrastinating, I have some really excellent motivators to help me through. Here they are, in no ranking order:
  • Infinite Jest
  • M. Train
  • The Anarchist's Guide to House Museums
  • Continuing to go to the gym.
  • A trip to the SC Johnson building for an architectural tour (and it's free).
  • Dinner with my grad school girls.
  • A flurry of dates with friends I've been neglecting.
  • Latkes. Lotsa latkes.
  • A new semester of classes that I will embrace with open arms.
  • Cake, lots and lots of cake with a new pal.
  • An 8-day sojourn to southern sunny California.
  • Face mist that is arriving in the mail very very soon (mist!!).
  • The stack of reading I will divide and CONQUER for my Capstone project.
  • The paintings I have started and plan on finishing.
  • Spending a few days immersing myself in the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.
  • Sleep. Beautiful un-anxious uninterrupted sleep.
  • Purging my belongings (after finishing the Kondo book, I am ready).
  • Frying things in my new frying pan.
  • Seinfeld vlog, yes, this is a thing I want to keep up.
  • Applying for future jobs!

01 December 2015

Seinfeld S2E4: The Phone Message

I just don't understand why George is downing this anti-acid medicine. There's literally no explanation for it.
Can someone please explain why Jerry has a framed black and white image of Ellis Island hanging above his desk?

10 November 2015

Work, Working, Worked: An Experimental Walking Tour of Bridgeport

A little over a week ago I participated in Work, Working, Worked - an experimental walking tour of the Bridgeport neighborhood co-organized by Paul Durica and Lumpen Radio in conjunction with Chicago Artists Month (thanks DCASE!). As part of my research methodology for audience engagement and audio guides, this tour was a really fun departure from the more traditional headphones in, passive movement, contained within a set architectural space.  What made this tour experimental was that rather than the audio component being pre-recorded for us to simply push-play on, the audio was live. That's right, a live audio experience, streamed through the Lumpen radio app, beamed right into our smartphones! And to make this even more inclusive, a portable loud speaker was provided by our tour facilitator, so we listened together as a group as we walked, talked, and visited our tour stops throughout Bridgeport.
[Man standing on a gravely path, pointing in the distance. He's standing next to a portable radio. This is Andrew, our tour facilitator for the day. He made sure we stayed on track time-wise, and helped us reach out to the radio station when we needed to check in.]

Per the emailed instructions, we met in Canal Origins Park along the border of Bridgeport and McKinley Park. The live-stream started, with Durica and one of his guests telling us the early history of the neighborhood, and the importance of the Chicago River to the early industry of Bridgeport. It makes sense that folks would settle near the water, but I totally forget that because the river is this pretty dirty thing that isn't really used in the same way it was centuries ago - due in part to the pollution from the industry that was build upon it.

[A view of the skyline facing north along the Chicago River. To the left is a pathway, with trees and foliage changing color with the season in Canal Origins Park. To the right is the calm deep blue Chicago River, and the construction site for the new boat house build by Jeanne Gang Architects.]

After visiting the river, we made a b-line for the Ashland CTA stop to hear about the importance of the early railway lines to this neighborhood. I had no idea that some of the Orange line trains are running on tracks that were originally used for industrial rail transport.

[Six people standing under an overpass along the Chicago River. They are gathered around a small portable speaker on the ground listening to the live broadcast.]

From the train station we walked to a place called Hamburger Heaven to hear about the meat packing industry. On our walk over, we heard a singing telegram, made small talk about the neighborhood, and played our first round of LINGO (Lumpen BINGO), because Bridgeport has a serious BINGO culture. In order to immerse ourselves in all things Bridgeport, we played BINGO on our own cards, as Durica read numbers out to us from the live-stream. It was bizarre, wonderful, and none of us won.

[Six people standing around a portable speaker outside of Hamburger Heaven. The restaurant building looks like a small house, painted white with red trim. A bright yellow sign listing the daily specials can be seen in the background.]
[A hand holding a BINGO card. The BINGO card only has a few numbers checked off.]
After briefly stopping at Hamburger Heaven, we headed over to Duck Inn, making a shortcut along one of Bridgeport's diagonal streets. I'll admit that when we were in transport between locations, there was a lot less listening to the live-stream and a lot more small talk between the tour participants. But, along this portion of the walk, our guide let us in on a really interesting fact! That there are a lot of diagonal streets in Bridgeport, and that the neighborhood departs from Chicago's famous grid pattern in order to wrap itself around the Chicago River. We even passed a house that seemingly had no right angles - it was a strange trapezoidal house on a corner lot along a diagonal street.

Once we arrived at Duck Inn, we waited for Chef Kevin Hickey to call into the station. While we waited, we ordered a round of beers, and hung out on the gorgeous back patio. Chef spoke to Durica (and us) about the history of the building, and the importance of making and continuing community spaces like Duck Inn within the fabric of the Bridgeport neighborhood. I'm adding this restaurant to my list, because food, community, and mid-century modern decor.

[The interior of Bridgeport's Duck Inn restaurant. Hardwood floors, with a line of two-top tables. A cushy leather booth lines the wall, with tables and metal chairs facing it. The space has beautiful clean lines, and sculptural exposed lightbulbs. A soft afternoon light is trickling in.]
Following our visit to Duck Inn, we walked over to Benton House - an early 20th century settlement house that's still in use today. Benton House took inspiration from the social work happening over at Hull-House, opening its doors to the Bridgeport community in 1907. While the architecture is a little bit different than that of Hull-House (founded in 1889), the message and the work conducted is fairly similar. Residents move in, offering social services to the community. 

[The front entrance to Benton House in Bridgeport. Red brick walls, large old windows, and a doorway with a curved barrel vaulted window design around it.]
While at the Benton House, we listened to Ben Noetzel speak to Durica over the phone (his phone call was streamed over the radio). Currently, Benton House is operating a community theatre, library, gymnasium, after school programming, audio/visual technology courses, a community garden, and a food pantry. Having spent so much time reading about Jane Addams and the work done at Hull-House, it was really exciting to visit a space that's still in use. I noticed the ways in which the home felt really lived in. There was a striking difference between the old furniture and sun-worn murals of Benton House, and the vitrines, display cases, and preserved manner of the Hull-House which is now a museum space. Visiting Benton House gave me an understanding of the kind of work that's happening in community spaces in Chicago, and the value of preserving these programs for neighborhood residents. Standing in the basement library, full of the repurposed furniture from the much loved (now defunct) Ramova Grill - we could hear the sound of an intense basketball game being played above us. The home was well worn, lived in, and loved. 

[Sitting in a basement library space. The walls are lined with books, while the furniture is that of a restaurant - the Ramova Grill. Bar stools and a lunch counter act as some of the furniture in the library. A vintage BINGO sign hangs in the corner.]
[The dining room at Benton House. Pale green walls, hardwood floors, and a beautiful old hardwood table and chairs sit at the center of the space. There's a vase with flowers on the table, and a chalkboard to the side of the table. A soft afternoon light filters in from the left. This space is used and lived in every day.]
[Hand-painted murals telling biblical and mythic tales line the walls in the living room. The central panel shows a bucolic hilly landscape, painted in hues of pale green and a soft browns. A variety of foliage dots the landscape, tall skinny trees, short squat bushes, and conical trees in the distance. A fawn-like man and a figure in a blue tunic are pictured in the foreground, in conversation. These murals were made by residents in the house in the 1930s or 1940s.]

Our final stop was Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, where we concluded the tour over happy hour cocktails and "mystery shots" paid for by the $40 discretionary fund given to us by the tour organizers. We toasted to a wonderful 2 hour experimental experience, having walked the streets of Chicago's historic Bridgeport neighborhood. Then we told ghost stories about Benton House and Hull-House, because we're only human. And who doesn't love a good ghost story?

08 November 2015

Touch Tour of the Rookery Building

On Friday, November 6, I attended my first Touch Tour (for visitors with vision impairment) of Chicago’s architecturally significant Rookery Building located at 209 S. LaSalle. The Touch Tour was one of several organized in conjunction with the citywide ADA 25 Chicago Initiative, and excitingly enough, the push to create more accessible programming for people with disabilities has led to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust (FLWT) putting Touch Tours permanently on their roster. Free one-on-one Touch Tours of various Frank Lloyd Wright buildings around the Chicagoland Area will be available upon request, due in part to the success of the programs created specifically for ADA 25 Chicago.

The tour was very simple – with four stops, plenty of textures to touch, and a narrative arc that made following the history of the building accessible to a variety of visitors, with or without a background in architecture or Chicago history. The tour was not only informative and fun, but also intimate. The FLWT capped the participant count at five people. I participated as an observer, which the FLWT was glad to allow. Each tour participant was paired with an assistant from the FLWT to not only act as a guide as we moved from spot to spot, but also to fill in gaps of information and answer questions as needed. With so many staff members trained and able to guide the tour participants, this felt like a group effort that was focused entirely on the visitor experience. I’d never before seen such dedication to making sure the visitors were able to engage, interact, and learn.

[A view of the ornate twisting staircase made of patterned cast iron, looking down on the “light port” or lobby. The staircase has curving smooth brass railings, smooth white Carrera marble steps, and a column of carved marble filled with gold inlay]

We began in the lobby, where we were introduced to our docent, Tom. Tom explained the space we were in, giving us basic facts about the building, its history, and the cast of characters that led to its creation: Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Wellborn Root, and the Great Chicago Fire. In addition to laying out the names and dates, Tom provided us with key logistical information that would make the tour run smoother: how many stops we would be making, what we would be doing, and how the tour would run overall. This information was immensely helpful in guiding our movements as well as fostering the overall flow of the experience. There were to be four stops, we would start outside touching the façade of the building, then move in to experience the different materials, patterns, and textures used in the interior building ornamentation. Tom was fantastic about dropping in names, dates, and architecture vocabulary, all while doing it at a manageable pace and with the finesse of a seasoned teacher. If someone had a question, we all paused to hear the answer. If we needed to spend more time at a location so that everyone was able to really work his or her hands and fingers around a material, we did.

I believe that starting as a group to go over the logistics of the tour and pair each participant with vision impairment with an assistant was really crucial to the success of this tour. Additionally, our docent seemed really flexible when we needed to switch the pacing to meet everyone’s accommodations. Though I haven’t been on one of the general building tours, I would venture to say that this one wasn’t too different in terms of the content shared. We learned the same history, the same context, and the same keywords that any other visitor would have. What made it special was that we were able to engage with the architecture and its rich history with more than just our sense of vision. Rather than feasting our eyes on the gorgeous gilded interior of the carved Italian Carrera marble, we used our fingertips to feel the smooth and cool marble, and the grittier golden crevices. We used our hands and feet to sense the difference in the floor materials – from glass bricks suggested specifically by Frank Lloyd Wright, to smooth Carrera marble, to beautiful lightly textured mosaic squares on the floor of the floor lobby.
[Detail of carved Carrera marble in an ornate, late 19th century curving abstracted floral pattern. The marble is raised, with a golden inlay in the lowered grooves]

Each stop we made and each surface we touched was weaved into the greater narrative of the building’s history. The building, constructed in 1885 and opened in 1888 was one of the first high rises in the world. What made it a fully functional high rise was the inclusion of one of the first elevator shafts – which we rode to the second floor. One participant noted that the elevators were really tiny and narrow, questioning if a wheelchair user could ride it. It’s interesting to think about the tension between renovations of the space for accommodations, while also keeping true to the architectural integrity and intent of the architects’ vision. All of the external building materials were locally sourced, and as we touched the granite exterior, we commented on how one type of stone could be fashioned into so many different textures. The interior ornamentation was not only fascinating, but told the story of three separate architects who had a say in how the building would look, feel, and function. In touching the various materials and surfaces, we were able to engage with the history in a non-visual way that made the narrative architectural story approachable and easy to understand. I walked away with a sound connection to this Chicago gem, while also knowing the intense precision and attention to detail that went into the building that I might not have grasped had I not been able to touch and rub the surfaces of the building ornamentation. For example, I would not have noticed the difference in the starburst patterning on the railings – one designed by Wright and one designed by Root had I not bent down and felt the difference. They looked similar, but the patterning was subtly different. Touching actually brought out something that I was unable to see, which was a revelation for me as a museum educator.
[Frank Lloyd Wright starburst pattern, a 12 pointed star
in cast iron. This shape is more linear, and straight. It was
made in 1905.]
[Detail of Daniel Burnham starburst pattern on
railing, a 12 pointed star, that curves and tilts on a
diagonal along the diagonal of the stairway. It was
made in 1888.]

In relation to our disability culture and accessibility in museums, it occurred to me that this building was not created with people with disabilities in mind. Being of a different era, the building was renovated several times, first in 1905 and again in the 1930s. But both of these renovations were not in consideration of differently abled bodies using the space. The 1996 renovation came after the passing of the ADA, which made me wonder if the automatic doors were part of that project. But beyond the building being architecturally accessible, I thought about whom this tour was created for and why it needed to be created. In affiliating themselves with ADA 25 Chicago, the FLWT had to do a little bit of an internal audit to determine which visitors were being left to the margins on their tours. This tour was devised specifically to meet the demand of a growing population of visitors with vision impairment, and with the formation of the tour came the recognition of the initial inaccessibility of preexisting programming and public engagement activities. I walked away wondering what more the FLWT could do, but excited by the prospect that accessibility was very much on their mind having gone through this process. I’m under the impression that because the tour appeared so seamless and similar to their tours for visual learners, that a change like this was more systematic and staffing-based than monetary in nature. In getting their staff on board, training the docents, and placing this program on the schedule, the FLWT is on their way to making a shift in their programming toward a more inclusive architectural experience.

02 November 2015

I'm Gonna Swing From the Chandelier, From the Chandelier

Between school, work, and going on audio tours (more on that soon), Halloween crept into my schedule and I managed to pull myself together enough to wear a *new* costume. No recycled looks for me this year. I think what made this one particularly effortless was the fact that I didn't have to wear pants. But also, leotards and tights are not fun or easy to go to the bathroom while wearing. Props to all the ballerinas, dancers, actors, and leotard wearers of the world - I commend you for your efforts.

2015 was the year I discovered Sia, and as such, it seemed perfectly fitting that I would go as her alter-ego the little blond dancer, Maddie Zeigler. Love love love how my costume turned out this year! Now back to the world of homework, class, and questioning if I'm running late or on time because Daylight Savings Time!


25 October 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 10/25/2015

Can I let you in on a little secret, or two? My Capstone project has taken a back burner in the last two weeks. I came down with a nasty cold that had me snifflin' and sneezin' my way around my apartment, but I am on the mend! The other secret is that this semester has been immensely hard for me. I signed up for two very amazing very challenging classes, and my Capstone has been this thing that I do when I need a break from the other two classes. In reality, I wish my Capstone was something I had way more time to devote to, but lately it's been pushed further and further down my (never-ending) To Do list. December, I see you, and you have Capstone written across your forehead.

A MUSE second-year student wisely shared a piece of advice with me that I unfortunately did not take. The advice was plain and simple:
Do not take an excruciatingly hard class your third semester. You will not have the time for it because you will need to be working on your Capstone.
I had her advice in mind, then when I saw the course offerings for the fall, I told myself "Pshhh, I can do it. I can do it all!!" And so I signed up for what I will officially title "The Hardest Class of My Entire Life" and all I can say is - I am challenged to my core. I'm learning an immense amount, reading copious amounts of literature, and growing each week. I've even tried to find a way to link up my research for my Capstone to my final project research for this class, focusing on Jane Addams and the Progressive Era take on disability.

The point of these posts is to be honest, with myself and with any of you readers who care to know (thank you dear readers). And if we're being completely honest here, I'm going to come out and say it. This semester is really really different and really really hard. The glitz and glamour of visiting one or two museums a week has evaporated. Not working in galleries means I'm way more disconnected from my art world circuit. But worst of all, not being in any required MUSE classes means I see a lot less of my beloved 2016 cohort. The crew I grew to know and admire, the group that challenged me and rolled their eyes at all the right times. I have classes on Monday and Wednesday with two of my grad school besties, but I'm really missing the comfort of being around the folks I grew so close with.

I've come to the conclusion that while going to a big research university has it's perks (like so many classes to choose from, great opportunities for growth, amazing faculty, a Wendy's for when I need fries), it's also really easy to feel lost in the sheer size of the place. Coming from the small undergraduate bubble that was my beloved Knox College, where everyone knew everyone, and I was nestled comfortably into my department, being at UIC is something that is really foreign to me. The campus feels huge, particularly because all of my classes this semester are on a different side of campus. In a nutshell, this semester is strange and new and difficult, but we've passed the halfway marker! I just need to power through is all!

[Four young women in winter gear smiling and posing with a life-size neoclassical statue of a woman. They are posing with their arms around each other, they are friends.]

A snap of my crew from last semester. I reflect so fondly upon my time last year. First year MUSE-life is an absolute dream. We sit in circles, we go on behind the scenes tours of museums, sometimes we bring snacks to class, and there's usually some sort of a visitor from the museum world. I'm so lucky to have been able to go through this immersive, inclusive, challenging, and hands-on year!

So back to my Capstone... This coming week has a bunch of deadlines and due dates for my electives. I've turned my attention to those to get through this crunch, but after this week I am going full-Capstone.

But I have done a few good things.
  • I have done some reading, and I have written two of my three surveys. I've even started to build them on Survey Monkey!
  • I attended a webinar on the inaccessibility of some of our most beloved social media platforms. Check this out: Facebook and Youtube are the pits in terms of access. The way the websites are formatted and laid out makes it almost impossible to navigate them with assistive technologies (like web readers). Twitter it turns out, is the most accessible and easy to adapt with assistive technologies. Having read this, I'm thinking it could be a worthwhile project to practice an audit of my own blog. One thing I want to do is start to include captions of my images that describe the image itself, in addition to the contextual caption (see above image).
  • I also did my first and second audio tours as part of my study. I visited the Chicago History Museum and moved through both their general audio guide and the audio description that was created specifically for Access for All: Tom Olin's Photographs of the Disability Rights Movement the ADA anniversary photography exhibit. I noticed the differences in the style and content in both of these tours, as well as the ease of use of the technologies (both were iPods, one was a shuffle, one was not), and if the content conveyed the overall message that a non-visual learned would need. Though the ADA accessible audio guide offered both a reading of the label and a description of the photograph itself. There could have been a little bit more pizzaz or energy to the overall recordings, but the show itself was great! I also noticed a mistake in the ADA audio guide - one of the tracks was omitted. I made sure to tell those administering the guides that this needs to be corrected ASAP!
[A photograph of a framed black and white photograph with a wall label on the right. In the photograph is a woman named Sarah Triano. She is wearing a tee-shirt that says "DISABLED AND PROUD" and is speaking passionately into a microphone. Some of her talking points are on a notecard she is holding in her hard. She is speaking at a 2000 protest against the Garret vs. Alabama court decision]

What is so exciting about seeing this photograph is that I actually interviewed Sarah Triano last spring as part of my research on the activist history of the Disability and Human Development and Disability Student Union at UIC. Triano was a leading activist in Chicago in the early 2000s, and helped to co-organize the Leave Out for Equal Justice Protest in spring of 2001.

  • I read this article and am really excited to read about the more experimental and non-traditional ways that house museums can engage their visitors. I've ordered Vagnone's book already!
In conclusion - rather than beat myself up on the woulda, shoulda, couldas, here's my ongoing to do list!
  • Meetings with advisors
  • Finalize my interview questions
  • Finalize building my surveys in Survey Monkey
  • Continue to gather a list of house museums
  • Read "The Anarchist's Guide to House Museums"
  • Write Protocol
  • Update Exemption Paperwork
  • Finish attaining approval from OPRS
  • Begin to administer my surveys
  • Continue reading my amazing list of articles on museum access

06 October 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 10/6/15

Hello! As you can imagine from my sporadic absence, I've been busy as a bee. All good things really, making some fantastic connections, filling out plenty of paperwork, and my project is moving forward wonderfully.

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum


  • My first big required deadline was last Friday. I turned in my MUSE Capstone Project Approval Form, which entailed an updated project proposal, the names of my advisors, a detailed timeline, milestones I'm trying to hit, and some justification for the project itself. 
  • On Thursday, we had our first required all-cohort meeting to present our initial thoughts and progress to one another. The main takeaway for me is that I really need to nail down what question I am asking through my project. 
    • What am I hoping to address? 
    • How does my project fit into existing work in the field? 
    • What am I going to do with the data I collect?
  • I've made a lot of important connections in the last two weeks.
    • Jennifer Scott, the Director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum has generously agreed to collaborate with the museum and their staff to conduct my research
    • Peter Berg, the Project Coordinator for Technical Assistance and Employer Outreach for Great Lakes ADA met with me last week to discuss how I can get in touch with members of the low-vision community in Chicago to conduct a survey. He also provided me with MANY resources around legal issues in making public spaces ADA compliant. He tipped me off to two recent court settlements around access in museums in DC, which I might use as examples for how access goes beyond architectural barriers.
    • I met Byron Harden of I See Music, LLC last night. He runs a production company and recording studio that also doubles as a vocational school for low-vision and blind students, teaching them how to record, produce, and edit audio of all sorts. This serendipitous meeting has me thinking what a fantastic fit his company would be to record, produce, and edit the audio tour for the Hull-House at a later date.
    • I also chatted with Danielle Linzer, the Director of Access and Public Engagement at the Whitney Museum about the museum's offerings for low-vision visitors. She informed me that they make all of their tactile educational models in house, and that they aren't merely 3-D reproductions of the original art object. Rather, they are reproductions of the art made by education staff - the focus is not only on the tactile quality of the educational tool, but the materiality and process of making it. They made a reproduction of a Mike Kelley sculpture in which they had to go to thrift stores in search of used stuffed animals to repurpose for a replica. The matted worn materials as well as the smell of the toys added a layer of meaning to the way educators and visitors engage with the object. 
    • I met Steve Landau, of Touch Graphics Inc. while at the ICOM-CECA Conference in Washington, DC. This was also pretty serendipitous, given that I'd interacted with one of his 3D audio descriptive models while visiting the San Diego Museum of Art back in January. The experience of touching a reproduction of a painting that was programmed to walk me through the visual components and historical context of the work is something that has stuck with me since I touched the painting earlier this year. To actually meet the man who made it was surreal!
  • I finally finished my CITI Training and have begun to move through the arduous, jargony, time-consuming paperwork for IRB review. Well actually, I'm technically exempt, which means I don't have to go through the full convening of the Board, but I still need to fill out loads of paperwork explaining my research methodology, the point of my project, the surveys I plan on administering, how I will attain consent from the survey participants, and how I will securely store the survey results. I have my work cut out for me!!

  • Tackle the IRB paperwork
    • Write my research protocol
    • Edit the Exemption form
    • Finish writing my survey for vision-impaired individuals
    • Finish writing my interview questions for those working in audio descriptive lines of work
    • Write my consent language
    • Submit, cross fingers, attain approval!
  • Reading all of the articles and books I've gathered on how vision-impairment has been addressed in various ways at different museums in the United States
  • Begin to build my house museum cohort for house museum survey (I would like to email at least 100 spaces)
  • Learn about ADA requirements for access in museums (thanks to Peter Berg for giving me great resources!!)
  • Continue to meet with my advisors about project updates

11 September 2015

Access In Museums: A Research Project in 6 Parts (Part 6)


Through my research over the course of this semester, all roads led back to the Art Institute. The critiques I held upon my departure from the institution found some solutions, as well as the beginnings of a potential shift within the museum structure. While the building is ADA compliant, there’s a question of how inclusive the programming and exhibition designs are with regard to disability. This past year there have been some small victories stemming from initiatives put in place by my former colleagues in Museum Education. In order to put change in place, there needs to be action steps and often a source of funding for implementing change. For example, one of the museum educators approached the Office of Development about applying for a grant within the healthcare industry to potentially fund a series of disability-focused educational programming. Development steered him toward Cigna, the healthcare provider for Art Institute employees, and a grant proposal was created and later accepted.

Figure 6: Noel King leading an ASL Tour at the Art Institute

With the funds from this grant, the Art Institute was able to implement ASL tours, which were initiated by Noel King, a deaf graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. King’s background is in art therapy, but she has extensive training in giving ASL museum tours from her time working at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and a desire to put something similar in place at the Art Institute. Initially created as a bit of an experiment, these programs soon gained momentum, partially due to the use of social media, but in large part due to the community want for a program like this (Figure 6). I had the pleasure of attending one of the ASL tours and enjoyed the learning process, the enriching dialogue, and the fact that some 65 people joined the tour – a large number for a touring group regardless of the language it was conducted in.

What had me the most excited was that this was the only tour offered on Thursday evening, the night the museum is free to the public. My takeaway from this observation is that with the ASL tour being the only tour that evening, meant that it was no different from the general guided tours, but rather a regular tour communicated in a different language. Though the museum is by no means done with the work toward making a wholly inclusive space, by making the ASL tour the only tour for the evening, the question of difference and the label of “other” was removed for me – disability was beautifully and seamlessly woven into the regular programming of the institution. 

Other programs in the works included the use of captioning in a Member lecture on Degas this summer, something the museum has yet to try. And a longer term goal on the wish list of the educators is to create a “style guide” for how to speak to audiences with disability, how to speak about audiences with disability, and how to incorporate disability in the general exhibition programming – not only in terms of content but also in exhibition design, lighting, and labeling methods. Potentially modeled after a preexisting guide created by the Steppenwolf Theatre, this manual would ideally shift the attitudes of museum workers across the spectrum of departments, and force a turn in the operations of the museum to create a more fully inclusive and welcome space.[1] Though it is interesting that the Art Institute did not participate in the ADA 25 Chicago initiative, it is clear that by creating smaller-scale internal changes one department at a time, a shift will begin to occur. Judging by the high attendance of individuals with and without hearing impairment on the ASL tour I attended, the audience exists and is interested. There is an appetite for this kind of a museum, and if we build it (ADA compliant), they will come.


Author Unknown. “Accessibility.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Date Unknown. Web. 3 March 2015.

Author Unknown. “Advanced Search: Deaf.” The Oakland Museum, CA. Date Unknown. Web. 24 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Discoveries: Workshops for Visitors with Developmental and Learning Disabilities and Those on the Autism Spectrum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spring-Summer 2015. PDF.

Author Unknown. “For Visitors Who Are Blind or Partially Sighted.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “For Visitors with Hearing Loss.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Road Scholars.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Date Unknown. Web. 25 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “The ADA and City Governments: Common Problems.” U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. October 10, 2008. Web. 19 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, NY.” The Accessible Museum: Model Programs of Accessibility for Disabled and Older People. The American Association of Museums. 1992. Print. (pg. 106).

Author Unknown. “The Oakland Museum: Oakland, California.” The Accessible Museum: Model Programs of Accessibility for Disabled and Older People. The American Association of Museums. 1992. Print.

Author Unknown. “Programs in Sign Language and with Sign Language Interpretation.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Programs for Visitors with Disabilities.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Brophy, Sarah and Janice Hladki. “Cripping the Museum: Disability, Pedagogy, and Video Art.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 8.3. 2014. PDF

Burris, Jennifer. “Park McArthur.” BOMB – Artists in Conversation. February 19, 2014. Web 4 April 2015.

Cascone, Sarah. “Robots Give Virtual Tours of the de Young Museum.” Art Net News. March 2, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.

Duncan, Carol. “From the Princely Gallery to the Public Art Museum: The Louvre Museum and the National Gallery, London.” In Representing the Nation: A Reader: Histories, Heritage and Museums. Eds. David Boswell and Jessica Evans. London: Routledge, 1999. PDF.

Handa, Kozue, Hitoshi Dairoku, and Yoshiko Toriyama. “Investigation of Priority Needs in Terms of Museum Service Accessibility for Visually Impaired Visitors.” The British Journal of Visual Impairment. 2010. PDF (pg. 223)

Hansen, Tone. “Introduction: What Is to Be (Re)Staged?.” (Re)Staging the Art Museum. Ed. Tone Hansen. Revolver Publishing. 2011. 9-18. Print.

Harris, Neil. “Museums: The Hidden Agenda,” in Cultural Excursions. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

King, Lyndel and Janet Marstine. “The University Museum and Gallery: A Site for Institutional Critique and a Focus of the Curriculum.” New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction. By Janet Marstine. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. 266-291. E-book edition.

Lind, Maria. “Restaging the Institution.” (Re)Staging the Art Museum. Ed. Tone Hansen. Revolver Publishing. 2011. 19-33. Print.

Linsey, Eleanor and Jonathon P. Bowen, Kirsten Hearn, and Maria Zedda. “Museums and Technology: Being Inclusive Helps Accessibility for All.” Curator: The Museum Journal. Volume 56, No. 3. July 2013. PDF

Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Wearable Tech: when ‘bring your own device’ means shirt and shoes*.” TrendsWatch 2015. 2015. PDF

Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Synesthesia: Multisensory Experiences for a Multisensory World.” TrendsWatch 2014. 2014. PDF

Minder, Raphael. “At Museo del Prado, Blind Visitors Can Touch Masterpieces.” The New York Times. March 6, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.

Sandell, Richard and Jocelyn Dodd. “Activist Practice.” Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum. 2010. 3-22. Print.

Werb, Shari Rothstein and Tari Hartman Squire. “Transforming Practice: Disability Perspectives and the Museum. Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum. 2010

[1] This section reflects a conversation another MUSE Student and I had with two museum educators at the Art Institute on April 30, 2015. We candidly spoke about the challenges of changing the institutional outlook on disability, some of the programs that are working, the issue of attaining funding for programs like the ones they are exploring, and much of the work that needs to be done to make the Art Institute a more accessible space.