1of10Photo: Matthew Busch /Contributor
You’re walking through a museum with a blindfold on, guided by the sound of music leading you to the next exhibit with scents and oral stories painting a mental picture of the historical artifacts on display.
Many people may take the blindfold off and admire the exhibit, but for those with visual impairments, the sensory tour at the San Antonio Museum of Art offers a way to enjoy exhibits anyway.
The sensory tours was started at the museum about seven years ago by Susanne O’Brien, who wanted to give a friend who was blind a tour of the museum.
Over the years, the tours have developed to incorporate props for visitors to feel, vials holding various scents related to the exhibit and relevant songs to guide visitors to each stop of the tour.
“Our goal is to give blind people an opportunity to see art and to engage with it,” O’Brien said. “Because we have a lot of older people who can’t see very well anymore, so it’s a chance for them to still continue to enjoy the things they’ve enjoyed in the past.”
Each stop on the tour features a docent who describes for visitors the physical dimensions and detailed symbolism and history of an individual piece. The tours are free and take place at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
Next month’s tour will take visitors through the new Texas Women art exhibit, O’Brien said.
For many, the guided tours are a means of experiencing history and developing community among other visually impaired people.
Veronica and Franklin Jones are regulars at the museum, and they have attended the tours each month for the past handful of years.
Franklin has limited sight due to macular degeneration, but he said the experience is well-done and offers social interaction with other visitors and the museum docents.
“They make it so enjoyable by virtue of the props, the smells and the description that they give even if you don’t have sight. If you just concentrate on what they’re telling you, you can almost visualize it,” Jones said.
For Chris Rodgers, who lost his sight and uses a wheelchair after an accident 14 years ago, the tours are a unique intellectual stimulant that allow him to flex his mental muscles every month.
“It’s a great service for the community because it’s free. … Chris can smell and touch the art, and then actually hear the story about the art piece,” said David Peché, Rodger’s caretaker and a local author. “It’s been very enriching in (Rodger’s) life to continue to learn.”