When was the last time you stepped into a museum? Did you look at the paintings? Did you really see the art? Imagine if you were born into a world without color, without light, without sight… A museum’s offerings would not look the same.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 285 million visually impaired worldwide. Thankfully, 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured. And from moderate visual impairment to blindness, there are so many people who would never perceive walking into a museum, because they cannot see an exhibit. I wanted to change that. I wanted to share the light of Carvaggio, the curves of Bernini and the angels of Raphael.
It all began one morning in January 2011 in the Vatican Museums. It is a enchanting place. Every time we step amongst the rainbows of ancient paintings, etherial-veined marble and elegantly bowing architecture, we are in awe. Being surrounded by such historical and breath-taking artistry is spiritual in itself. The power and essence of the Vatican furthers the shiver of goosebumps! There is never a moment that we are not amazed of the Museums’ prowess. Incredible.
During this visit to Vatican Museums with TFOS consultant, Sabrina Zappia, who manages the TFOS website, and Father Mark Haydu, International Director of the Patrons of the Arts, we learned about a new project in the Museums: the tour for the blind. Because of Sabrina’s and my work with TFOS, a world leader in eye health education (www.tearfilm.org), we offered to promote this tour among the members. TFOS has outreach to doctors and patients in over 90 countries worldwide, therefore a large interest could be developed for this artistic tour for the blind. With this objective in mind, we launched a Vatican Museums Patrons Chapter in order to further disseminate the message and access to art for those whom did not previously imagine a visit.
These tactile tours permit the visually impaired to explore a selection of original sculptures on display in the Gregorian Profane Museum and in the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Painting Gallery. This ‘tour for the blind’ enables visitors to icongraphically understand a selection of masterpieces through touch, multisensory systems and musical stimuli. Thermoformed panels and scale reproduction bas-reliefs equipped with Braille legends and dark print descriptions help visitors appreciate the masterpieces.
This tour for the blind was a large undertaking for the Vatican Museums, for recruiting design, restoration and vision experts from around the globe. Vision is a blessing and art is a gift to all, not a luxury. It is exceptional that we are able to offer access to the miracles of art to people who see differently,
The evening of our 2nd anniversary tour in the Vatican Museums, I was approached by a blind woman, Deborah. Deborah is an exceptionally profound and touching woman who is passionate about art. Blind at birth, Deborah has never seen the light of day, nor for that matter, the light miracles of Caravaggio’s paintbrush. She participated in our first tour and returned for the second. Her blindness helped us ‘see’ the art in front of us. She added a heartbeat to the canvases and flesh to the sculptures… Deborah took my arm and asked if she could speak with me. Of course. I excused myself from some other guests and stepped aside to listen to Deborah. She proceeded to thank me, to thank the Patrons. Deborah illustrated that before she met us, before she came to our tour, she had no vision. Yes, she was blind, but she had no vision for her life. She could not see her future. She could not see a purpose in her life. She did not see a point in continuing. Deborah squeezed my arm tightly, paused and said that, “You saved my life.” I was speechless. I squeezed her arm back. Deborah furthered that after our tour for the blind, she was able to see. She was able to see a beauty around her that hadn’t existed before. She could see a purpose for living. She had begun studying the classics and art. She wants to help make it possible for other people to see. “Thank you,” she said.
Our Vatican Museums Patron effort is an inspiring project. We offer people a more in-depth glimpse behind the conservation and perpetuation of the vast, unique and priceless art collection in the Vatican Museums. We bring together all individuals who have an appreciation for art, history and restorations. Our group is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of arts, antiquities and sculptures in the Vatican Museums, with a special focus on making art accessible to all, even those with disabilities who otherwise would not be able to participate.
Along with the creation of our cultural projects, we host an annual event at the Vatican Museums as well as numerous other activities to share our appreciation of the immense collection of famous art treasures. We bring guests together from all over the world to share in our endeavors. It is an amazing experience to be a part of such an initiative, particularly when something some beautiful can positively impact the lives of others, as with Deborah.
If you would like additional information about our project, please contact me or visit our website: International & Italian Patrons in the Vatican Museums
Amy Gallant Sullivan
TFOS, Executive Director
Co-Founder, International & Italian Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums