Exploring arts engagement for people experiencing sight loss

The RBSA is working with Focus Birmingham, the sight loss and disability charity, to bring art to a wider audience.

The project, funded by West Midlands Museum Development, involves a series of workshops and the creation of a film promoting the outreach work of the RBSA with specific groups.

A session at the Focus centre in Harborne today saw artist and RBSA member Lynn Jeffery join forces with volunteer art group leader Ian Reynolds, who himself has a visual impairment.

The clay workshop will see the creation of a new relief art work at the centre, made up of tiles designed by people with visual impairments.

Ian Reynolds with workshop participant Charlene Kerr-Spencer

Lynn said: ‘It has been quite amazing to see people who are exploring a material, but all by touch. Those who have limited sight don’t necessarily find it easier than those with no sight at all, but what’s clear is that the social interaction is just as important.

‘Working in a tactile way taps into memory. Helen Keller observed that it was memory that made all the difference.’

Ian Reynolds, who went to art college and became an art teacher despite his sight loss, added: ‘Everyone taking part today seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience – there was a momentum to the group activity. We work a lot at Focus on an individual basis, but there’s a lot to be said for group work.

”It gives a different perspective, and the involvement of the RBSA means we have proper clay and will see a glazed and fired result. It’s great, having access to more professional tools and materials.

‘The people in our art group may be struggling with the emotional impact of sight loss, and it has been proved that there are positive mental outcomes from art sessions where people meet others with a shared experience, and create something.

‘I’d recommend the RBSA to other groups. This has been our second workshop session and both have been highly successful. The results justify the efforts put in.’

Charlene Kerr-Spencer came to the session and found working with clay new and exciting. She has experienced sight loss quite recently and said: ‘It has been really good to find another way of being creative. It’s very important to have input and direction. It may sound crazy, but being blind is dark… and Focus is my light.’

Natalie Osborne of the RBSA helps a workshop participant make a clay tile

Natalie Osborne, Learning and Engagement Manager at the RBSA said: “We have been lucky to get funding to develop our outreach work. As one of the oldest art societies in the UK we run exhibitions and events at our Gallery through the year.

‘But we also want to help people who may struggle to access our shows by providing sessions where they can experience our Permanent Collection or enjoy making some art of their own at our specially designed workshops and guided tours.’

In addition to outreach workshops, groups are able to arrange sensory or guided tours of the RBSA Gallery, in order to get closer to the Permanent Collection and experience exhibitions and events without some of the barriers people may usually face.

To find out more, contact the RBSA by calling 0121 236 4353 or emailing natalie@rbsa.org.uk

Ian Reynolds has set up a website for artists experiencing visual impairment called Painting With Sight Loss

How to book an outreach visit

  1. Call or e-mail the RBSA Gallery on 0121 236 4353, natalie@rbsa.org.uk

  2. Ask to speak to Natalie Osborne, the Learning and Engagement Manager.

  3. Provide information, such as: the type of activity you would like, the times you would like this to take place, the group size, and location.

  4. Where funding is available, the RBSA will provide activities for free. However, if funding is not available, we have to charge to cover costs. Therefore, please also mention what budget you have. Where possible, we always try to offer something within budget.

  5. All activities are administered by an RBSA staff member, delivered by a professional artist, and designed in line with RBSA safeguarding and health & safety policies. Outlines and risk assessments can also be provided.

  6. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Natalie (working hours Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm), who will be very happy to help you.

Useful links:

  1. How to find us (includes access film): http://www.rbsa.org.uk/whats-on/how-to-find-us/

  2. Disabled access guide: http://www.rbsa.org.uk/whats-on/disabled-access-guide/

  3. RBSA What’s On: http://www.rbsa.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/current/

  4. Focus Birmingham website: https://www.focusbirmingham.org.uk/

This work is part of a project funded by the West Midlands Museum Development Fund, which is managed by Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust with funding from Arts Council England.

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