Sensory gallery gives new experience to art

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Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu
Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu

Danielle Meadows
CONTRIBUTOR

Touching artwork is often strictly prohibited in galleries. The new University of Nebraska at Omaha Weber Fine Arts exhibit “Sensory: Please Touch the Art” opened a few weeks ago, inviting guests to get more interactive.

“Sensory: Please Touch the Art” was put together by many people, including faculty and students. The idea originated more than a year ago through discussion between Denise Brady (the art gallery coordinator) and Dr. Lisa Johnson, who is currently the Student Support Services director at Nebraska Methodist College. Johnson is visually impaired and had never been able to fully enjoy art galleries, so an exhibit featuring art that engages multiple senses other than sight interested her. From there, plans for the exhibit began to evolve.

A series of workshops for the visually impaired were held in the Weber Fine Arts building over the summer, with each workshop featuring a different art medium. The various workshops included clay, soft sculpture, fabrics and textiles and tactile drawing. Ann Cunningham, a tactile artist with years of experience working with the blind, Dr. Jeremy Johnson and Dr. Lisa Johnson organized the workshops and taught classes to the visually impaired artists.

The workshops were offered at a low cost and supported by various Nebraska-based groups, including the UNO Art Education program. Many of the pieces featured in the gallery belong to those who attended the workshops. Twenty teens and adults participated, giving those who are visually impaired access to art instruction and creating pieces they are proud of and passionate about.

While some of the works displayed in the exhibit were made especially for the gallery, others have been shown in different locations. Every artist represented granted permission for their work to be touched, as long as the guests touched with care and clean hands.

The staff at the gallery also took steps to ensure the pieces were accessible to those with little or no vision, adding large print, braille and push-button audio files to most of the work.

Many of the artists featured in the first hallway of the exhibit are visually impaired. That didn’t stop them from creating unique, beautiful work. Some artists showcased their talent in multiple forms such as sculpture and textiles, while others stuck to one particular medium.

On the labels of the artwork, guests are able to learn the names of the pieces, artist’s name, type of medium, price (if for sale) as well as where the artist is from. Multiple artists featured in the gallery are from Omaha—some being UNO students—while others came from places like Philadelphia, New Mexico and even India.

As guests travel further into the exhibit, they will find work that is distinctly interactive. UNO art student Laura Simpson created chimes out of recycled materials placed in wooden frames. Guests are asked to strike the various materials with spoons to create sounds.

Artist Jamie Burmeister of Gretna had rocking chairs on display–but they weren’t just any usual chairs. The piece titled “Opus 1” is designed to have guests sit in the chairs which create unique sounds depending on how they move.

The gallery in the Weber Fine Arts building shows off these pieces and over 50 others, creating a remarkable experience for any guest who enters. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. “Sensory: Please Touch the Art” is presented during October’s Art Accessibility Month and will be available for viewing until Nov 10.

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