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A sensory walk through the South Africa Landscape

Jane Samuels
4 October 2010

Find out how Jane Samuels, the Access and Equality Manager at the British Museum, helped to make Kew's South Africa Landscape accessible to all sectors of society - with a particular emphasis on diverse and disabled audiences.

Handling events for visually impaired people are commonplace at the British Museum. However, the Museum’s Landscapes, which have spectacularly graced the forecourt on three occasions, present a magnificent opportunity to programme something more unique and unusual for this target audience.

On 3 September 2010 the British Museum organised an event in the South Africa Landscape for visually impaired visitors, which not only focused on the spoken word, touch and handling, but also utilised other senses more fully, such as smell, through the existence of plants and hearing through the use of live music.

The event was facilitated by curator Chris Spring; South African percussionist and composer Eugene Skeef and Caroline Cartwright from the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. The day of the event was a bright sunny September morning - fitting for a walk through a South Africa Landscape. The visually impaired visitors who attended the event were all - apart from one - blind. The session began with Chris’ contextual introduction whilst Eugene gently played his instruments in the background.

As the group proceeded around the Landscape, they were invited to touch the plant life and feel the reproductions of famous examples of rock art. They heard about the significance of the Landscape from Caroline and Chris and listened to the soft gentle rhythms of Eugene’s percussion.

The group found the multi-sensory dimension of the experience illuminating and moving. A couple of the group danced to the live percussion and others rhythmically clapped their hands. Eugene encouraged the group to feel the instruments. Some were thus motivated to experiment with making their own sounds. By the end of the session, the entire group were engaged with making music together.

It was a dynamic event and unforgettable because of the reaction it stirred in the participants. Their elation at the end of the session was a touching reminder of how museums can unequivocally provide stimulating and exciting experiences for blind audiences, despite their often primary concentration on the visual. The delight in the participant’s faces – in fact in all our faces - was a moving testimony to the success of the event.

As a consequence - we’re planning another similar event in the Landscape for the same target audience before it closes on the 10th October. In Chris Spring’s words ‘this would be a great thing to do before we say farewell.’

- Jane Samuels -

Access and Equality Manager, British Museum

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