“What you hear is what you see.” That’s the motto of Peconic Landing’s Art Without Barriers initiative.
For the past seven years, the Greenport lifecare community has made its sculpture garden accessible to the visually impaired through the program, which is funded by the Mattituck Lions Club. To do so, Peconic Landing staff created descriptive audio for each sculpture, including some in the artist’s own words. Braille and tactile guided tours also help the visually impaired enjoy the 19 pieces on display.
“Creating a sculpture garden is difficult in itself, but to make art accessible for people with disabilities is a whole other order of magnitude,” said Dominic Antignano, Peconic Landing’s cultural arts curator. “We believe, because of who we are and how we reach out to the community on a regular basis, that art should be accessible to everybody.”
Each participant uses a set of headphones and a smartphone or MP3 device to download a podcast description of each sculpture. Complimentary iPods are also available for use.
On Monday, more than two dozen visually impaired individuals visited the garden through an event organized by the Suffolk Independent Living Organization. It’s the third consecutive year the Art Without Barriers tour has been held.
“It’s very moving creating a venue where people who can’t see, see,” Mr. Antignano said. “It is a unique sculpture garden and there really is nothing out here quite like it. We are the only ones out here who allow [this type of] accessibility to the art.”
The sculptures were created by local and international artists alike. Mr. Antignano, an artist himself and board member at East End Arts in Riverhead, said creating art comes naturally to him, but creating art that is presentable to those with little or no vision was something he couldn’t fully understand. Fellow Peconic Landing staffer Kathryn Caroll, who is legally blind, helped teach him that sensibility, Mr. Antignano said.
On top of being able to hear descriptions of the pieces through their headsets, two artists attended this week’s event. Martin Rothenberg and Steven Zaluski, both of whom haves two sculptures on display in the garden, are Long Island natives. They tagged along on the tour, explaining to participants how they went about creating their pieces.
SILO advocacy and outreach coordinator Marilyn Tucci, who helped arrange the event, said people who are blind like herself rarely have the opportunity to touch and fully understand a piece of art.
“We are always told ‘Don’t touch,’ so we never actually fully know what it looks like regardless of how it is being described,” Ms. Tucci said.
Victor Neisch of East Marion has participated in Art Without Barriers each year since its inception. He said his limited vision has digressed in recent years, so the guided features help him now more than ever.
“Now I have to listen more than normal,” Mr. Neisch said. “Being able to touch and feel the art, along with listening to the curators and the artists themselves here, is something special.”
Calverton resident Michael Jordan returned for the second time this year and said he plans to come back any chance he gets.
“You know what I love about this? Even though I have one little piece of sight left in my right eye, I really enjoy being able to touch and feel the textures of the sculptures,” he said. “I love the descriptions, the beauty, the smell, the atmosphere. And I can envision the artwork in my head, and that is not something we get to do often.”
Photo: East Marion resident Victor Neisch, who is visually impaired, enjoying the sculpture garden Monday at Peconic Landing in Greenport. (Credit: Lauren Lustgarten)