KIA Unveils Sculptures for the Visually Impaired

Posted: December 1, 2014
Source: Katie Houston
Job Title: Marketing & PR Coordinator
Phone: 269-349-7775 x3112


The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) unveiled two sculptures by Michigan artists on Monday, December 1. Designed for the experience of blind and visually impaired patrons, the sculptures were funded by the Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund (MBTF).

The sculptures were presented by the artists, Paul Ponchillia and Steve Curl, to KIA Executive Director Belinda Tate, Director of Museum Education Susan Eckhardt, and Curator of Education Michelle Stempien. Representatives from the funder, the KIA Touch Art committee, and guests from the community also attended.

The KIA Education Department has offered a Touch Art Tour for the blind and visually impaired since 2011, developed with members of the Kalamazoo visually impaired community and experts in the field of education for the visually impaired. More than 150 visitors have participated in this program in the last three years.

"After two years, we felt it was time to expand the program," says Michelle Stempien of applying for the funds. "This grant has allowed us to increase our sculptural offerings and develop new ways for blind and low vision visitors to interact with art objects."

The $3,800 grant was awarded in 2013, and the artists were commissioned shortly thereafter.

Paul Ponchillia, who is visually impaired, lives in Three Rivers and works primarily with stone, bone, and other natural materials to create carvings with an Inuit influence. He is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies at WMU.

Steve Curl creates fantastical, whimsical creatures - dragons and robots - from found metal objects. They have touchable texture and are favorites with young visitors.

Although numerous museums offer programs for the blind and visually impaired, KIA tours are rare in that visitors engage directly with the works of art through touch and discussion with KIA docents (tour guides) rather than listening passively to recordings or verbal descriptions.

The KIA Touch Art committee includes KIA staff and docents, current and retired faculty from Western Michigan University's Department of Low Vision and Blindness Studies, a VI/Mobility specialist from Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency, and a former counselor from the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center. Two members of the committee are visually impaired.