Here at the Museu Picasso we have at last got round to tackling a very important pending aspect of accessibility: accessibility of communication. We have long been aware of the need to make accessible to everyone not just the physical space of the museum but also our content, and had marked it out as a priority, as we noted in a previous post.
Preparation of the exhibition “Feasting on Paris. Picasso 1900-1907” gave us the perfect opportunity to incorporate communication accessibility measures and implement these in the exhibition process. In this task we have benefitted from the invaluable input of Barcelona’s Institut de Cultura (ICUB), guiding us through the process and providing support at each step. For some time now the ICUB has been providing the city’s museums with the tools they need to improve in this facet of communication in general, and especially in the production of temporary exhibitions.
We at the Museum wanted to incorporate communication accessibility criteria right from the start of the production process, fully embracing a fundamental reality: to bear in mind the relevant measures and actions in the whole museological conception of the exhibition, from the formulation of the brief given to the professionals working on the interior layout and graphic design to the sharing of these concerns with the exhibition curator and their incorporation into our educational provision.
The transverse dimension has also been very important here, given that the accessibility of communication has to do with all of the facets involved in putting on an exhibition. The process has therefore been shared and discussed with the participation of the heads of Visitor Services, Communication and Graphic Design, Public Programmes and Exhibition Coordination and Production. In addition to the ICUB input we have had ongoing advice and guidance from the Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities, enabling us to formulate and implement a proposal for action that is balanced and, most importantly, achievable.
Presentation of accessibility communicative measures for the exhibition “Feasting on Paris. Picasso 1900-1907.” Photo: Quim Vicente
The interventions range from the simple to the complex: Communication produced gallery guides with the exhibition texts in Braille and large print, while Exhibition Coordination took charge of the wall texts to ensure the exhibition information was in a typeface and a size that made it easy to read and that the colour combinations would not present difficulties for people with visual disabilities. As well as coordinating the actions of the various departments, Visitor Services provided training for staff working with the public on improving interaction with and attention to people with different forms of sensory disability.
Embossed images. Picasso, The Embrace.
Meanwhile, the Education Service of the Public Programmes Department developed adapted visits for visually impaired people, using descriptive narrative to articulate the visit, reproducing in relief of some of the works on show, the tactile perception of the silhouettes facilitating an appreciation of the picture’s structure, and including a life-size reproduction of a wooden figurine featured in the exhibition. Adapted visits have also been scheduled for people with hearing impairment, incorporating sign language, lip reading and FM broadcast commentary. The Museum has also arranged guided tours for people with intellectual disabilities, working in conjunction with occupational therapy groups; in fact we have been organizing these visits for a few years now, taking school groups with students with intellectual disabilities around the permanent collection.
Embossed images. Picasso, Portrait of señora Canals.
However, none of the improvements in accessibility of communication that have been implemented would have been possible without the teamwork that went into the whole process, because of the crucial importance not only of a comprehensive approach that involves all of the different departments, but also of the enriching prior process of information sharing and discussion, the selection of possible actions and the assumption of these as an integral part of the work of the Museum.
Among the many debates that have arisen here, a lot has been said about the role of the museum as a space of research and exploration that affords a deeper understanding of our artistic culture and cultural heritage, and about ways of finding the best way to communicate this task to our various publics, ranging from those with specialist expertise to those with greater difficulty in accessing this information. We have not yet reached any conclusion, but this is a topic in which we would like to involve other museums and our publics.
In the meantime we are actively engaged in a variety of actions with groups and individual visitors with disabilities, and our positive experiences are making it clear that there is palpable improvement here for a broad spectrum of the population that goes beyond people with disabilities. Improved access to communication benefits us all, especially when, as in our experience, it is embraced as a global project that is present from the very beginning of the working process and not as an afterthought or annex reserved for groups with specific needs.
Quim Vicente and Anna Guarro