Developing Multi-sensory Tours: Tips and Ideas
The Art Gallery of Ontario has been developing multi-sensory tours for visitors who are blind or with vision loss since the fall of 2009. These tours have become a highlight of visitors’ experience and a fountain of knowledge for gallery guides. Starting up a multi-sensory program at your museum is easy. We hope the following tips and ideas will help you get started!
- Get your institution on board and work closely with the conservators at your museum to identify works in the permanent collection that could be touched by visitors (wearing nitrile gloves).
- Seek out partners in the disability community to assist you in training, testing and promoting the program.
- With your docents/gallery guides, develop a pilot multi-sensory tour with invited guests from the disability community who will give you feedback.
- Incorporate feedback and train your gallery guides/docents to give multi-sensory tours.
Developing Multi-Sensory Tours
- Find a theme to base your tour on – a narrative that ties in all the pieces.
- Choose a mix of works that will enable the use of the visitors’ sense of touch, smell, and hearing through the various tools in your multi-sensory kit.
- Paintings, or works that cannot be touched require sufficient time for detailed verbal descriptions – limit the number of works in the tour to allow for quality discussions (e.g. 30-45 minutes per painting or artwork)
- Prepare a creative response or an engaging discussion for your visitors after or throughout the tour.
- If you are able to contact your visitors before their arrival, inquire about their interests and try to include works that they may like to learn about.
- Keep track of visitors’ responses to each work to fine-tune your selection for future tours.
- Try to personalize the multi-sensory tools that you use as much as possible for each tour and visitor. Use the tools from your kit that you know will best enhance the experience for your visitor based on their unique needs.
- Include a variety of components: narrative, poetry, music, smell, touch, movement, discussion, etc
Developing Your Multi-Sensory Toolkit
- The aim of your toolkit is to enhance works of art, or any museum artifact through the use of all the senses. Touch, Smell, Sound and various degrees of vision. (where permitted, even taste!)
- Be creative but keep things simple enough for them to be affordable and achievable.
- Develop and improve your tools based on feedback from your visitors with vision loss and your partner organizations in the disability community.
- Whenever possible, develop tools that will be flexible enough to be used for many pieces. (e.g. tools that explain artistic concepts and techniques)
- Keep in mind the different conceptual needs of your visitors. For example, while some may have never seen colour, others will have. The tools that you create, have to be tailored to such needs.
- Develop your tools collaboratively for each tour with your docents or gallery guides. Encourage your docents to bring their own ideas and tools to the tours they develop.
- Remain open to unique experiences and opportunities for your mutli-sensory tours (e.g. including special guests like actors, artists and musicians).
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations edited by Sandra H. Dudley
The Power of Touch: Handling Objects in Museum and Heritage Contexts edited by Elizabeth Pye
Arts, Culture and Blindness: A Study of Blind Students in the Visual Arts by Simon Hayhoe
On Sight and Insight by John M. Hull
Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto
Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton
Sight Unseen by Georgina Kleege
Fixing my Gaze by Susan R. Barry
The Mystery of the Eye and the Shadow of Blindness by Rod Michalko
The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks
An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing by Beverley Biderman
Visual descriptions that you can download from MOMA:
Doris Van Den Brekel Doris_van_den_Brekel@ago.net