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New Program at Detroit Institute of Arts Serves Blind and Visually Impaired Students - Initiative just one of several programs offered for groups with special needs

Thursday, February 10, 2011

(Detroit)—Many people are familiar with the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) collections, exhibitions, family programs, and other activities, and thousands have taken advantage of programs outside the museum walls, such as Speakers Bureau talks and presentations in classrooms. But many people might not be aware of the DIA’s extensive community outreach to groups with special needs, including the latest addition: a program for students who are blind or visually impaired.

The DIA recently launched an art-making program for students in Detroit Public Schools and Lincoln Park Public Schools who are blind or visually impaired (BVI), in collaboration with University of Michigan (UM). During five weekly visits, museum staff trained 15 UM art students in how to work with BVI students in an art-making experience. University students provide individual assistance to BVI students during four weekly art-making sessions, led by artist and UM art instructor Sadashi Inuzuka and DIA teaching artists. At the end of the project, the BVI students’ art will be displayed in the museum’s Walter Gibbs Learning Center.

This prototype program is built on Inuzuka’s work, who is working with the DIA to establish an international model for providing learning opportunities for BVI youth while building understanding, friendship and awareness between all kinds of learners.

Jennifer Czajkowski, executive director of Learning & Interpretation (L&I) at the DIA, sees positive outcomes for all involved. “Students who are blind or visually impaired engage in creative expression in an inspirational setting, learning from art students and teaching artists,” said Czajkowski. “UM students gain experience and develop skills working with different kinds of learners, coached by Sadashi and DIA staff.”

The DIA’s L&I department develops and manages this and other programs where viewing, discussing, and art-making stimulate thinking and promote personal connections with art, no matter what cognitive or physical abilities an individual brings to the experience. At the heart of these programs are the beliefs that art is an inherently interesting subject that provides excellent opportunities for mental stimulation, and that art serves a vital role in helping all individuals explore and express their humanity.

Below are some of the other groups served by programs tailored to their special needs.

Healing Arts at Children’s Hospital of Michigan
DIA teaching artists gather art supplies and head down the street on Fridays to work with the young patients at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. Projects are usually designed for kids to make and take home with them, but last summer another component was added. Outside in the hospital’s Healing Garden, children created mosaics and concrete stepping stones embedded with interesting objects that became part of the garden. These were installed in the garden for other kids, their caregivers and hospital staff to enjoy.

Children who must stay at the hospital for an extended period benefit from the highly personalized bedside opportunities for creativity. Beyond providing much-needed relief and distraction from the anxiety, pain, and boredom often associated with a hospital stay, the DIA’s program provides patients with a way to become absorbed in their own creative process. The children quickly discover that they are more than their disease as they engage in making art.

Tours for Kids with Special Needs
The DIA welcomes all kinds of learners to explore its collections. Teaching volunteers are specially selected and trained to address the needs of students with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges, so that all young visitors have satisfying opportunities to make their own personal connections with art.

When teachers call to arrange field trips, they are asked if children with special needs are in their group. If so, staff works with the teachers and social workers to set up visits that will accommodate their needs.

Minds on Art (for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and caregivers)
The DIA is working to formalize a program that provides stimulating experiences with art for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. Last fall, teaching volunteers and staff participated in sensitivity and techniques trainings led by the Michigan Alzheimer’s Association. The museum is now working with agencies serving those with Alzheimer’s and dementia to bring patients to the museum for a series of carefully facilitated gallery discussions designed to exercise cognitive processes while providing a recreational day out for both patient and caregiver.

Presentations at Nursing Homes and Senior Citizens’ Residences
DIA teaching volunteers visit area nursing homes and seniors’ residences weekly to provide stimulating presentations and talks about art in the DIA’s collection. Since it is difficult for many of these residents to come to the DIA, the museum has developed a wide range of talks that can be presented using a laptop and projector. Many facilities sign up for monthly talks, offering residents an ongoing look at the DIA’s outstanding collection. Teaching volunteers also give mini-walkthroughs of special exhibitions upon request.

Community Groups
For more than a decade, the DIA has worked with human service agencies such as Adult Well Being Services and the rehabilitation program at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, to bring their clients to the museum for a series of multiple visits. Participants tour the galleries and talk about art in open-ended sessions facilitated by DIA volunteers and staff. These sessions build skills in looking, verbal expression, communication, and interpretation. Afterwards, the group gathers in the studio for art-making sessions. Last year, for example, a group from the VA worked for several weeks on dioramas based on personal memories. Their work was installed in the museum’s Walter Gibbs Learning Center, and the DIA hosted a small reception where each artist described his or her work.


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth. As the DIA celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2010, it does so with renewed commitment to its visitor-centered experience and to its mission of creating opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Programs are made possible in part with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Detroit.

Contact: Pamela Marcil 313-833-7899