Crystal Bridges is open to the public, with timed tickets and walk-ups welcome as capacity allows. Learn more.
Crystal Bridges is open to the public, with timed tickets and walk-ups welcome as capacity allows. Learn more.

Museum Way Podcast: Artist Negar Ahkami + Access and Inclusion

On this episode of Museum Way, we talk with artist Negar Ahkami, featured in The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art. Ahkami’s paintings are colorful collisions of influence and critique that she refers to as “an aesthetic of contradiction.” She incorporates Persian architecture and design into her paintings as a proxy for Iranian culture alongside a stylized cartoon aesthetic. Growing up in the U.S., she was acutely aware of her identity as an American, but one who was constantly defending her Iranian heritage. While her fusion of styles underscores her own sense of cultural hybridity, the work reflects Ahkami’s idea that Iran is presented in American media as a “cartoon” of its real self. We also chat with Kim Crowell, Associate Museum Educator in Access and Inclusive Programs and Accessibility Coordinator, about museum programs focused on access and inclusion. Thanks for tuning in to Museum Way!

 

Subscribe Now!

Subscribe to be the first to listen, and head over to our social media channels to let us know what you’d like to hear on future episodes.

Listen on Google Play Music Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify Listen on Stitcher

 

Episode Transcript

Stace Treat:
Welcome to Museum Way, the podcast of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We’re sharing all the ins and outs of the museum from the galleries to the trails, the architecture and more. You’ll learn the Museum Way of Crystal Bridges. In today’s podcast, we’ll meet Kim Crowell, associate museum educator in access and inclusive programs and accessibility coordinator. We’ll hear about the work her team is doing to truly honor the museum’s mission of welcoming all. After talking to Kim, we’ll meet artist Negar Ahkami, currently featured at Crystal Bridges in the exhibition, The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art. Let’s jump into this episode of Museum Way.

Stace Treat:
We’re here with artist Negar Ahkami, one of the featured contemporary artists in The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art. Negar, thanks so much for joining us.

Negar Ahkami:
Thanks so much for having me.

Stace Treat:
So you have two remarkable works in this exhibition and I’m just curious, how did you come to be involved in the project?

Negar Ahkami:
Well, I feel ridiculously lucky. First I should say, any association with Georgia O’Keeffe is not to be taken lightly at all. I mean, she’s a massive icon and influence on so many artists. I had the good fortune of working with Lauren Haynes in New York. I was an alumnus of School of Visual Arts where I got an MFA, but also have this wonderful artists residency called Skowhegan. And there was a show that was sort of alumni who were both alumni of SVA and Skowhegan that Lauren had been asked to curate. And I was very lucky that she pulled me out. It was wonderful just to work with her just because I was such a huge fan of her work and the work of her colleagues at the Studio Museum of Harlem.

Negar Ahkami:
I just, I’d always loved that museum and just was blown away by what they’ve accomplished in terms of bringing more and more African American artists into the forefront, just wonderful, wonderful artists. So it was just incredibly lucky that I felt that Lauren saw these connections between my work and Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York City kind of cityscapes. So that’s how I’m here.

Stace Treat:
Well, I have to say, I absolutely love the two paintings that you have in our show.

Negar Ahkami:
Thank you.

Stace Treat:
I love the richness, vibrancy, the textures, rhythms and colors, all of it. I especially love that they are each telling a story, sometimes a little enigmatic perhaps. What are your thoughts on these works?

Negar Ahkami:
There’s a lot there. I mean they’re not new works. The Source is a painting from 2009, and The Bridge is a painting from 2007. So I was in a very different place than I am now and yet there’s a common thread in the work. The stories that I was telling were repeated iterations of things that I had been thinking about from the early days of when I quit my day job to do my art. Specifically The Source has a lot to do with representation about Iran in our news and how we sort of view Iran as this monolithic, cartoonish, negative force.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. Sort of like an enemy state if you were to take it at face value.

Negar Ahkami:
Yes. Whereas, I mean, I have a very complex understanding of Iran and about our relations with Iran. And it’s just always been painful doubly about what’s been going on there and just how it had been taken over by these religious extremists, which really don’t reflect what I know to be true about Iranian culture and humanity. And from day one were very brutal and repressive and yet the news never seemed to reflect the descent of the many Iranians who continued to live there. That was always really painful for me. This conflation of people with the regime. This inability to separate and also just this cartoonifying of culture that that went on in our news representations of Iran, but also in the buffoonery of the leaders who would say ridiculous statements and then ridiculous statements being told on both sides— “Axis of Evil”, “Great Satan”.

Negar Ahkami:
I mean, just very cartoonish. Is this Batman or is this…? I love Batman, but it was very painful. So to be exposed to this contradiction between this cartoon on the one hand and this knowledge of the complexity and the incredible legacy that Iran has in terms of visual culture, not just in the sort of ancient Persian era, but in the Islamic period. I mean, major contributions to art and design and architecture that continue to influence in a way that people don’t even realize how much is appropriated and how much is… So this duality is just always been super painful for me. And watching it kind of happen in real time because I’m old enough to remember what Iran was like in the ’70s and what our relationship was like in the ’70s.

Negar Ahkami:
Then it was like the end of my childhood, I was eight or nine when the revolution happened and my dad was a complete news junkie and would have the news on full blast in her home. It was really painful to watch the rhetoric change overnight. So for me, I don’t even feel like I could… I mean, I could talk about my art but a lot of what I was painting was just so deeply hard to talk about and almost always putting me on the defensive, in dinner parties or just being around such educated people whose assumptions were really influenced by what they read in the newspaper and knowing that the newspaper really didn’t capture so much. In a way painting was a way for me to get at this mind screw, if you will, of being caught between such contradiction.

Stace Treat:
Well, you have described your work as an aesthetic of contradiction.

Negar Ahkami:
Yeah. It was for a long time and in a way I don’t feel that way about my work now. I think it’s more holistic and seamless. But yes, for The Source, for sure, it’s very much to me, I think about this tension between something that’s exquisite and cartoonish; complex and simplified and even jolie laide, “ugly, beautiful”. That concept of something being kind of ugly and repulsive and sort of gaudy and even not precious. I mean, if you look up close, the surfaces are far from perfect. I mean, I don’t sand things to perfection. I kind of think of it as makeup over pimples, just.

Stace Treat:
Oh, right.

Negar Ahkami:
It’s not beauty. It’s not always, it can be repulsive— the work— in some way. It’s not about perfection. If you look at Persian art, I think of it as being really perfect. I mean a Persian miniature, which was done with like a paintbrush, details done with one hair on a brush, that kind of perfection. I paint with very scraggly kind of paint brushes. I’m much messier. I love German Expressionism and street art of the ’80s that I was exposed to in New York growing up. So bringing together the ugly and the beautiful is not just something that I find visually pleasing, but it does kind of express that contradiction that you raise.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. I love that you mentioned New York at that time because it was grittier.

Negar Ahkami:
Oh yeah, I miss it.

Stace Treat:
There was an amazing art scene that evolved out of that. People can easily think of Warhol and Keith Haring and some of that wonderful stuff.

Negar Ahkami:
And he autographed my sketchbook when I was a teen. I mean, I just loved the New York art world as a teenager and a tween even. I was really obsessed with art from age, like 10, 11, through my teenage high school years and was a voracious consumer of the contemporary art, the street art of New York then. But then also art museums and at the same time that I loved American art and Western art, European art, I also at the same time had this parallel track of falling in deep love with Persian art. That was how I found my connection, my pride in a way, this very damaged sense of self was, I felt whole, I felt nourished and I felt like I could be proud through the art history. And yet somehow there was a desire to connect these very different ways of making art.

Negar Ahkami:
I love these French artists, Marc Chagall and Matisse who painted and George O’Keeffe was a huge influence on me at an early age. But just people who painted and had their own distinct sense of style and told their own stories. And yet Persian art is much more imitative and more perfect in a way and somehow bringing those together really I found pleasing. You asked about sort of the two paintings in the show and the other painting that’s in the show is less about representation, it’s more about the severed connection between Iran and the US and this longing for the connection again. And part of it is very personal, but part of it is paying tribute to the many Iranian immigrants that I have known.

Negar Ahkami:
While I felt very different from them because I did not have that experience of being exiled or having to leave your Homeland for a new place. I am not an immigrant. I was born and raised here. I feel very rooted in being American. I knew so many and my parents were just very active members of the Iranian American sort of community and the New York area and organized countless parties. And our house was just filled, always just hosting people and dinners and people sleeping when they were trying to… leaving Iran. So even though I didn’t fully understand it and my Persian is not fluent and I was always treated as sort of kind of this coddled American who doesn’t really understand or felt that way. There was a real desire in that piece and in a lot of my paintings to pay tribute to this American experience, this immigrant American experience that I think is not well understood. And this idea of being sort of in this, in between place and not really in either place and I’m feeling very much in between.

Stace Treat:
Absolutely. This is so resonant with the contemporary moment, with the refugees, the crisis at the border, a lot of these sort of experiences that different people are having of being in between, of not being grounded in a place and a lot of them not their choice.

Negar Ahkami:
Exactly. I mean, the Iranians that I knew and were exposed to were so flamboyantly proud of their culture. And whereas my sisters and I were very assimilated Americans and we are Persian, we weren’t really even taught to speak Persian. The Iranians that were coming in the ’80s after the revolution, like never wanted to leave unlike my parents who wanted the American dream and wanted to be able to go back, to visit, maybe have a place there someday, like a summer home. But the Iranians that were leaving after the revolution really loved their home and it’s painful for anybody that feels like they have to leave their home and caught in between.

Stace Treat:
Well, tell me a little bit about some of the iconography and themes throughout your work.

Negar Ahkami:
There’s a lot of symbolism.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, I’m really struck when I look at it and I invite our listeners to go to your website and really look at a broader range of your work. You have these beautiful dancers like Saturday Night Fever kind of feel on some of them and the odalisques which are just beautiful. I love what you do with figures. So encouraging.

Negar Ahkami:
Oh, thank you.

Stace Treat:
You were mentioning the painting, The Bridge, and there’s that one lone figure that’s on the bridge between the two worlds. That really when I had first seen images of your work in preparing for this show, I didn’t notice the figure because they were kind of smaller. So when the work was on the wall, it was just like, wow, that kind of brought it all together. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing now and these fun works that you’re exploring.

Negar Ahkami:
It’s definitely coming from this same place, this urge to connect my Persian influences with my love of Western art and culture and even just to pay tribute to Persian art and humanity and its connectivity really is still in the work very much so. It’s always been there, but whereas before I was really directly reacting to things in the news and politics and what depressed me most about what was going on. More recently I’m finding that I’m so profoundly depressed by the news that I’m really finding the need to escape it. And I’m kind of looking to my longstanding sort of examination of Orientalism in popular culture and in art history. And I’m kind of going with the fantastical sort of escapist aspect of that and just the way Aladdin and the mythology of One Thousand and One Nights and the magic carpet and the genie.

Negar Ahkami:
I mean, these were fantastical exotic tales that are originated in Iran, Iraq and India. And they were hugely popular globally because of this escapism—this universal love and need to escape one’s world. So I made my own little dance floor, that’s kind of the beginning of a whole new exciting world where I still sort of see it as a painting, but it’s almost like a painting with lights and it’s very part Saturday Night Fever, part Persian carpet, there’s definitely like a raw street kind of collage sensibility to it as well. I made an Aladdin lamp that’s, I call an “Alexa” lamp and I spell “Alexa” in this very sort of Arabised way. It’s got an Amazon Alexa inside so that viewers can-

Stace Treat:
Alexa.

Negar Ahkami:
… ask for their favorite jam and then get on the dance floor. And it’s yet another iteration of my obsessions, not always having to be directly political and yet there is something political because the paintings that kind of go with this body of work. Some of them are dancers that are very familiar to me from the countless Iranian dance floors that I’ve been on from the parties that my parents would organize for the diaspora. Just people don’t know that Iranians love to dance. I mean it is a big, very like, I mean we’re talking packed dance floors with octogenarians to toddlers. And that to me is what’s so representative of the culture and not the like unsmiling angry mullahs that people tend to see. So there is a politics and wanting to pay tribute to something that I fiercely hold onto, but also just a desire for myself to escape and to bring that escapism to the viewers as well.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned your Marc Chagall influence which I kind of see littered all over that stuff, like the little flying figures at times.

Negar Ahkami:
For sure.

Stace Treat:
And it is something kind of simultaneously whimsical and weird.

Negar Ahkami:
Yeah. Weird and then also a sadness. Just thinking back to what it must’ve been like to be Russian and Jewish and to come from that family experience and apparently his painting like of a fiddler, inspired Fiddler on the Roof which I adored. I loved that musical growing up. So yeah, there is the sort of yin and the yang, this sort of mystical beauty, which is kind of who I am I think as a person. This great love for art and desire to connect and inspiration, but there’s also great sensitivity to real things in the world. So I think that’s why there is a little bit of that yin and yang in a lot of my work.

Stace Treat:
I think that’s a beautiful description of it. And when you see the works particularly including the ones in The Beyond, I think that comes through.

Negar Ahkami:
Thank you.

Stace Treat:
So Negar Ahkami, thank you so much for chatting.

Negar Ahkami:
Thank you. It’s such a treat to be here and I can’t wait to finally visit the museum. I still haven’t been there yet, so I’m about to go now.

Stace Treat:
Well, let me know what you think.

Negar Ahkami:
I will.

Stace Treat:
If you’d like to get more involved at Crystal Bridges, consider becoming a museum volunteer. Our volunteers have flexible scheduling, ample training opportunities to work with the public or behind the scenes, and more. Volunteers are critical to the success of Crystal Bridges and we’d love to have you join us. Learn more at crystalbridges.org/volunteer. We’re here with Kim Crowell, associate museum educator in access and inclusive programs and our accessibility coordinator. Welcome Kim.

Kim Crowell:
Thank you so much Stace.

Stace Treat:
So it’s exciting to have you on the podcast because last month we talked to Kentrell Curry and Raven Cook about different kinds of diversity and inclusion efforts being made, not only at our museum but kind of throughout the field. So today we wanted to chat with you and expand the conversation into different types of access and inclusive programming that we do at the museum. So recently our entire staff has been learning more about this. You’ve been with us, what, a year and a half or so?

Kim Crowell:
That’s right.

Stace Treat:
So you’ve been kind of almost silently behind the scenes working on building this amazing array of programs and you’ve been sharing it. So that’s why we wanted you on Museum Way. We wanted you to share it with our listeners.

Kim Crowell:
Wonderful.

Stace Treat:
So listen, tell me all about sort of what you’ve been doing.

Kim Crowell:
Yeah, so I work with a team, a small but mighty team of two other people in access and inclusive programs—my supervisor, Amanda Driver and my, colleague Emily Rodriguez. And for access and inclusive programs, my role is to create programs for individuals with disabilities. Also, about six months ago, I took on the role of the accessibility coordinator and for that role, I work with different departments to make the museum more accessible for people in general. Some of the things that I do as a part of that role are I work through accessibility audits for the museum. I coordinate and implement an accessibility training for all of our staff and for our volunteers.

Kim Crowell:
Then kind of a new thing that we’ve been working on is coordinating a Community Access Advisory Committee. And that’s made up of 8-10 individuals with and without disabilities who are advocates for inclusion in Northwest Arkansas. So the goal of that committee is to really help us to refine inclusive practices at the museum. A lot of those, the members of the committee come from various organizations in the area, such as the Northwest Arkansas Association of the Deaf, The Arkansas Council of the Blind, Lifestyles, 99 Balloons, Sources, Partners for Inclusive Communities, the ALS Association and we have a couple of participants from our program for people with early stage Alzheimer’s and their care partners known as Creative Connections.

Stace Treat:
Wow. That’s a broad base of connectivity.

Kim Crowell:
Yes.

Stace Treat:
So we have a lot of community support that’s coming to… that you’re helping coordinate.

Kim Crowell:
Right.

Stace Treat:
Both with our visitors and with our staff.

Kim Crowell:
Exactly.

Stace Treat:
So what kind of some of the programs that you all are offering? There are some really cool programs I have to say and I was really amazed by the breadth of them, so let’s go through it. Tell them.

Kim Crowell:
Okay. Sounds great. So we have programs for a variety of age groups. And as far as for family programs, we have our first one is called Family Access Night, which is a fun night out for families impacted by disability to visit the museum. Families come over for art making activities. We have a gallery talk that is really interactive and then we usually bring in a performer. So it’s a fun night out that the whole family can enjoy together. Also, we collaborate with an organization called Play with Passion, which is, it’s organized through the Bentonville Schools. And really the goal of that organization is to get kids with disabilities active and moving in the community. So they visit a different site within the Bentonville Northwest Arkansas area each month. And they come to Crystal Bridges twice each year, once in the fall and once in the spring. When they come to the museum in the fall, we all meet up at the Buckyball sculpture which is on your drive into the museum.

Stace Treat:
Lights up at night.

Kim Crowell:
That’s right. It’s gorgeous. And for that program we have, it’s all about glow related activities. So we have all these glow art making activities. The kiddos deck out their rides. So if they use a wheelchair, if they’ve brought a scooter or a bicycle, they decorate it with any kind of glow material that you can think of. And then they learn a little bit about bicycle safety and afterwards we all ride together as a group across the road to Orchards Park where Mojo Cycling has a cookout for all the kids and families. So that’s really fun. Then in the spring we have our event out on the South Lawn, the museum’s South Lawn, that’s really geared towards nature related activities. So we have a bunch of nature related art activities. We have a scavenger hunt that families walk along the sculpture trail, finding different things.

Stace Treat:
Oh, fun.

Kim Crowell:
Yeah. And then for both of those programs we collaborate with our Trails and Grounds team who they help to staff the event and for that spring event they do the cookout for us. So that’s a really great partnership between our two departments.

Stace Treat:
Yes, we do have a wonderful Trails and Grounds team.

Kim Crowell:
We sure do. We sure do. I just love them. Another program that we have that… So the last two family programs that we have are really for families with kids with autism. So the first one is called ArtShare and that is a program that we have once again once in the fall and once in the spring. For that program, the museum opens a little bit early so that families with kids with autism can explore the galleries in a more quiet environment. So families go through the galleries first and they do a really interactive, multisensory gallery activity. And usually we also have a scavenger hunt that families can use to explore the galleries together. They really have a lot of fun with that. Afterwards we have a variety of art making activities available in our studio space and we also bring in a music therapist and a movement instructor to do different activities with the kids. So once again, I love all of our programs. I can’t really pick a favorite one just because they’re all… they’re wonderful.

Stace Treat:
But they’re all special in their own ways I mean –

Kim Crowell:
That’s right.

Stace Treat:
… because they target different groups.

Kim Crowell:
You got it.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. And really makes art and the experience of being in an art museum come alive for people that are able bodied, may never even think about.

Kim Crowell:
Yeah. I love that we can include everyone in this way. I absolutely love that. Our last family program is known as Camp Connect and that’s actually going to be happening pretty soon. Camp Connect is a summer camp for kids with autism and peer mentors who do not have autism. We collaborate with the University of Arkansas for this camp. So it’s a week long summer camp that—the University of Arkansas also has a couple of their own camps for kids with and without autism. But that one week they come to the museum and we do a lot of gallery activities, art making and really the goal of that program is to get the kids to interact, to increase that social interaction. So recently we’ve been moving towards having more group work.

Kim Crowell:
So for instance this summer the theme for the camp is all about nature and art and the kids work on smaller individual projects. But then in the second part of the camp, after we’ve gone to the galleries to look at a couple of works of art and have a really in-depth discussion about those works of art. The kids come together in small groups for group time. And for that group time this year, the kiddos are going to work together to create biome dioramas of different habitats that can be found across the globe. So for that, they’re going to work together to create animals out of recycled materials. They’re going to work together to create backdrops and plants for the diorama. And at the end of the week, they’re going to invite all of their family and friends over and they’re going to present their work-

Stace Treat:
That sounds really fun.

Kim Crowell:
… to that group. Yeah. Last year the theme was storytelling and the kids made… What they were working together to create was a puppet show and they just like loved being able to present for their family and friends. You could tell like everybody was really… they were really proud of themselves.

Stace Treat:
That’s great. So I know there’s so many different and fascinating, interesting things that are happening at the museum with this stuff. I remember coming to your workspace once, Kim and you had this amazing, it looked like a tactile with felt and all kinds of things, image of our Roy Lichtenstein painting Still Life with Mirror. Tell me about that kind of thing, the tactile art making.

Kim Crowell:
Yeah. So that’s a really great segue. We created a bunch of tactile materials for use with our collaboration with the Arkansas Council of the Blind. But we’ve found that using these tactile and multisensory materials are also great for a variety of groups. We use them with our programs with kids with autism. Sometimes we bring them out for our programs for adults with early stage Alzheimer’s and their care partners. But yeah, like I said, initially they were created for our collaboration with the Arkansas Council of the Blind. So that’s been going on for the past two years. And originally the Arkansas Council of the Blind had their annual conference over in Little Rock, Arkansas. But they actually moved their conference to the Fayetteville area over the past two years so that at the end of the conference they could come to Crystal Bridges for a multisensory gallery tour.

Kim Crowell:
And with those tours we, once everybody arrives, we divide everybody up into four different groups. We have multisensory materials usually for four works of art in the collection for each tour and those include touchable maps of the work of art, where different textures are used to represent different areas of the work, which is what you were referring to earlier. Also, that’s always combined with a highly detailed verbal description of the work of art which just is an in-depth report of objects that are located in the artwork. It also seeks to describe the scale of the work of art in terms of the human body. Then also we try to really describe the textures that are found, like paint textures or just fabric textures, a lot of different things. Additionally, we often bring in different multisensory materials too that represent some of the objects that are found in the work of art.

Kim Crowell:
So for instance, we might bring in certain smells, like we have a seascape that we have an essential oil that smells kind of like the ocean that we put in a plastic bottle that we seal up really tightly before we bring it into the galleries. Some works of art have really luxurious fabric textures. So we bring in fabric samples for those things and some works like the one that you were referring to before, we actually bring in a cup, a fake apple, other things, objects that are found in the work.

Stace Treat:
In the work. I got you. Well, we have been working on actually getting these verbal descriptions added to our app as well and that’s going to be a new thing. We have eight works of art I believe in the collection that you’ve written.

Kim Crowell:
Yes. My colleague Amanda and I have written all those.

Stace Treat:
All of those and I’m going to get you to read one of them.

Kim Crowell:
Okay. Perfect.

Stace Treat:
And it’s for David Smith’s sculpture called March Sentinel. Right?

Kim Crowell:
You got it.

Stace Treat:
All right, let’s hear it.

Kim Crowell:
All right. The sculpture that you are in front of is entitled March Sentinel and was made in 1961 by an artist named David Smith using welded stainless steel. This abstract metal sculpture is 43.5 inches wide by 102 inches tall by about 20 inches deep and includes various geometric shapes welded onto a thick rectangular metal sheet. The sculpture spans from about one arm’s length in width and from the floor to three feet over one’s head in height and roughly from one’s elbow to one’s fingertips in depth as it sits on a metal base on the floor. The large metal sheet that forms the majority of the sculpture is attached to its base, like your head is attached to your body. Your head abruptly tapers in at your neck, which then attaches to your body. Similarly, the large metal sheet cuts inward to form a short neck that attaches to the metal base of the sculpture.

Kim Crowell:
There are a variety of metal shapes that are attached to the sheet including circles, ovals and rectangles. Three-dimensional lines are also created by additional sheets that are attached perpendicularly to the sculpture. The sculpture is finished with an interesting texture—possibly by using a metal grinder—that causes loopy light patterns to show on the surface of the metal. The metal base that the sculpture is attached to is rectangular in shape and features the artist’s signature and the numbers 3-9-1961 for the date that the sculpture was completed.

Stace Treat:
Wow. That’s really interesting because even though I’m really familiar with that work, I found it, there were a lot of very sharp and descriptive clarifying things that you really could see it, in my mind’s eye. I could see it. You also do something else with that sculpture in particular and a few other works, which is something that no one else gets to do except for our prep team. And that’s, you let some of these special visitors touch.

Kim Crowell:
Right. Yes.

Stace Treat:
Tell me about that.

Kim Crowell:
Yeah. So that was a new part of our Arkansas Council of the Blind collaboration for this past year. We worked with our curatorial team to identify several works of art in the collection that could be touched by registered participants with the Arkansas Council of the Blind. For this year’s tour we really wanted to focus on our modern and contemporary galleries. So within that list we selected a couple of works of art that we featured on the tour that could be experienced through touch. And just some of the feedback that we’ve gotten about that is that our participants really loved the experience of being able to do this. March Sentinel was one of the works of art and then we also had Louise Bourgeois’ Distant Figures, which is in our modern galleries.

Kim Crowell:
And in particular there are… I didn’t really realize just the variety of textures that are available within that one work of art until I was really looking in-depth at it when I was writing the verbal description. But the members of the Arkansas Council of the Blind just really loved being able to feel that variety of texture, like at the base, the really rough texture and then kind of at the top of that, there is a more smooth texture and then there’s several of these columns that are grouped together that are just shiny because I guess they’ve been polished so much. So that’s a really unique thing. I hope that we get to continue to do that again with our Arkansas Council of the Blind members.

Stace Treat:
Me too. There’s a wonderful blog post that you wrote for this that we’re going to have a link to on Museum Way. So go to the website, check that out and you can see some pictures. Of course the participants were wearing gloves—

Kim Crowell:
Right. You got it.

Stace Treat:
—so we were respecting the art. So as for any visitor that comes to the museum, what kind of accommodations do we offer them?

Kim Crowell:
That’s a great question. So all of our interior spaces at the museum are wheelchair accessible and we also have accessible parking on the lower level of our parking garage. Additionally, we have wheelchairs and walkers that are available for use at no cost. They’re usually located in our elevator towers, in our main lobby space and in our coat check area. So those are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Also, we have assistive listening devices for all of our events in the Great Hall and these devices are also available for all other tours and programs with advanced notice by request based on availability. Also we offer American Sign Language interpretation for all of our Distinguished Speakers Series lectures and Collection Highlights tours on the third Saturday of each month, through 2018 at no cost. And pretty much that’s a drop in tour so you don’t have to register for that in advance.

Kim Crowell:
You pretty much just show up at the designated area about five or so minutes before the tour is scheduled to start and then you can join in. American Sign Language is also available for all of our other programs and tours by request with advanced notice based on availability. Finally, we have audio tours that are available on our app so we encourage people to download the app. And those tours also include audio label text, which is really helpful. And finally we do offer our multisensory tours. If a guest would like to go on a multisensory tour, they just need to contact our Access and Inclusive Department and we would be happy to schedule something with them just with advanced notice once again.

Stace Treat:
Kim, can you tell us what are our accommodations currently for guests with disabilities at the museum?

Kim Crowell:
So we have a few different adult programs. The first one is known as Lifestyles and for this program… so first of all, Lifestyles is an organization that provides support for adults with disabilities in Northwest Arkansas. We work with a division of Lifestyles known as the Launch Program, which is created in collaboration with the University of Arkansas. It’s a college equivalent course for young adults with disabilities. And as part of their effective communication, these young adults come to the museum once a month during the semester for an art looking and an art making activity. We are also really excited in the fall that we will be getting two interns from the Launch Program.

Kim Crowell:
So this is another part of the Launch Program that for a semester the students do an internship and so we have two students that will be working with us. We met with them to identify areas in the museum that they are most interested in. So they will really be focusing in on those areas for three days of the week. Then on Fridays we will have them rotate to different departments at the museum just to learn about the variety of job opportunities that are available in a museum setting.

Stace Treat:
So you’ll basically show them the Museum Way of Crystal Bridges.

Kim Crowell:
You got it. Another program that we have is known as Open Avenues. Open Avenues is a work center for adults with disabilities in Rogers, Arkansas. We go to the work center once a month for an art making activity during the client’s lunchtime. So they can opt to come over after they’ve finished their lunches to work on an art project. And that’s really meant to encourage creativity during the work day. And we usually have a lot of regulars that are just like so wonderful to get to see and talk to. Also, we have a program known as Creative Connections, which is for people with early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia and their care partners.

Kim Crowell:
This program is created in collaboration with the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and the Alzheimer’s Association and interested participants sign up through our local Alzheimer’s Association office. During this program there is an art… we generally have an icebreaker and then we go into the galleries to have a really in-depth discussion of one work of art. Then we come back to the studios where everybody gets to make their own work of art. Generally we try to create themes for each program and those themes are meant to evoke memories from the past because generally long-term memory is one of the later things to be affected by the disease. So I love that program as well. We also offer professional development sessions for various organizations such as in the past we’ve worked with the Arkansas Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and NWA Premier Counseling.

Kim Crowell:
We’re going to start this October, it’s called Multisensory Saturdays. First, this initial Multisensory Saturdays is going to… it’s in celebration of disability awareness month. For this program, we’re going to have several of our multisensory tour works. We’re going to have multisensory materials available for those works that everyone can experience regardless of their level of sight.

Stace Treat:
Great. So we’re going to pull them out for everybody to use.

Kim Crowell:
Yes.

Stace Treat:
That’s great.

Kim Crowell:
We’re really excited about that. So that’s going to start this fall and then we plan to continue this quarterly throughout 2019.

Stace Treat:
I do think that’s a wonderful opportunity because one of the things about access and accessibility in general is that the more that we understand the various ways in which people can interact with art, the better we all are, I think in some ways. So many of us often take for granted, unless we have what we would oftentimes unexpected disability, a back surgery or a broken bone or something where we have to depend on wheelchairs or other devices to get around. It’s one way to help us understand the many ways in which we can share art with people that, I mean, can’t see for example, or can’t hear but they still have ways in which they can interact. And the more that we all understand that, the more inclusive I think everyone becomes.

Kim Crowell:
Exactly. Yeah. I feel so lucky to work at a museum that is so focused on access and inclusion. It’s so important to have diversity both in our museum and in our guests that are coming to the museum because when we bring in diverse groups, we learn more from each other and that makes us a more close knit community in general, I believe. So I feel very fortunate to be here.

Stace Treat:
Wow. There’s so much to talk about. Well again, go to our website to learn more about all of these programs. If you have any questions about it at all, we’re happy to answer them.

Kim Crowell:
Great.

Stace Treat:
Kim, thanks so much for being with us on Museum Way.

Kim Crowell:
Thank you.

Stace Treat:
We’ve recently announced our 2019 exhibitions. The lineup includes Men of Steel, Women of Wonder: a look at modern American heroes in contemporary times. Also Nature’s Nation: a look at how American art relates to nature. And Crystals: Visible Invisible, featuring crystal artworks dating back from ancient Egypt to today. Learn more about these exciting exhibitions at crystalbridges.org. Thanks for tuning in to Museum Way. We hope you enjoyed the episode and tune in each month to hear more. Head over to our social media channels and leave a question or comment about what you’d like to hear on future episodes. And don’t forget to visit The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art on view Crystal Bridges until September 3. I’m Stace Treat and I’ll catch you next month right here on Museum Way.