By Crocker Staff
Art museums are not neutral. As storytellers, editors, and preservationists, these institutions tell very conscious, particular narratives and play a pivotal role in what is recorded into the cultural and artistic canons for posterity. Art museums are also important spaces that foster social dialogue, communal interaction, and cultural critique. As a result, art museums are sites of contestation — non-static entities where these topics, subjects, professionals, creative ideas, and socio-political issues collide. And Access — as a verb, philosophy, and an institutional commitment — is integral to mediating a visitor’s experience of these wide-ranging and nuanced conditions.
In 2020, issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEAI) are being revisited within art museums with renewed vigor. In light of the racial justice protests that have swept the United States, national attention is firmly situated on art museums and their DEAI initiatives. The Crocker continues to improve its Art Access program and further its commitment to accessibility. Access is the purview of all Crocker staff, and the Museum’s commitment to “reducing barriers and increasing accessibility to the Museum and art experiences“ is stewarded by key staff who work in conjunction with community partners on an Art Access Committee.
At the Crocker, access is considered through six areas: financial, lingual, intellectual, physical, auditory, and visual. Each of these areas present unique challenges and are relevant to a number of different audiences. Therefore, when thinking about access, it is vital that aspects such as the types audience(s), their perceived and real needs, the various ways in which these audiences can and may want to engage with the Museum, and, ultimately, how best to align all these conditions within both individual and collective visitation experiences are taken into consideration. This is a process that is ongoing as conditions/circumstances evolve and relies heavily on visitor feedback and the input of key community partners and stakeholders, as well as regular conversations with other art museums about their Art Access programs.
The Museum’s commitment to accessibility is reflected in a number of key programs. For example, Pay-What-You-Wish Sundays — where the Crocker is free with or without a donation — are an attempt to reduce financial barriers to museum visitation. Additionally, through the Art Access Scholarship program, visiting groups can apply for funds to visit and tour the Museum if admission costs are prohibitive. The Museum also provides Sign Language interpretation and captioning upon request, and docents regularly host American Sign Language tours of the Crocker’s current exhibitions and permanent collection. Sensory engagement tours are also arranged for visitors who are blind or have low vision. These tours use scents, sounds, and tactile sculptures to provide a unique engagement with works of art.
There are numerous entrenched barriers to Access both in cultural/ability based-representation, and new challenges within the proliferation of the digital museum experience.
Although the Crocker may have made many strides to broaden its access initiatives since the completion of the Teel Family Pavilion in 2010, the work needed to ensure the Museum remains equitable to all does not end. 2020 has shown that there are numerous entrenched barriers to access both in cultural/ability based-representation, and new challenges within the proliferation of the digital museum experience. The responsibility to meet these needs lies with the Museum. This is where collaboration with the Art Access Committee is so important. With around 20 members that include Museum staff, key community partners and passionate Crocker supporters, the Committee is a pivotal working group that meets regular to discuss and refine ways to improve Access at the Museum.
Currently, the Art Access committee meets every trimester, on the second Tuesday in January, May, and September. Members join and rotate out occasionally, and the mission and vision evolves as the Crocker encounters new access-related opportunities. The group presently includes education liaisons, hearing loss specialists, docents, speech pathologists, social workers, community organizers, and staff. With such varied professional representation, it is a space conducive for creative problem solving and for meaningful discourse around what the Museum offers, how it is offered, and why it needs to be offered in a very thoughtful way.
Having developed a core foundation for access at the institution, it is exciting to explore how the Museum can expand upon this work. The Committee recently adopted a mission and values statement that is apt for this current state of access at Crocker:
The Crocker’s Art Access initiative provides opportunities for people to learn and grow through educational programs, positive social interactions, and direct engagement with the art on view, to ensure people of every ability and background feel welcome at the Crocker.
We believe that art is for everyone,
We hold respect for all people,
We are committed to removing barriers to art and each other,
We see art as a means of building community.
At a time when art museums are thinking deeply about DEAI initiatives, there is something very human about respecting, building up, and sharing with others through art. Click HERE for more information about accessibility at the Crocker Art Museum.