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Sensing Beauty Exhibit Opens in Fort Wayne

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Ben Clemmer
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"A young boy of eleven years is sitting, playing with a handful of very small plastic dinosaurs." by Karen Thompson

The League for the Blind and Disabled partnered with the University of Saint Francis for an art exhibit that opened last week. The show called “Sensing Beauty: A Multi-Sensory Art Experience” lives up to its name.

Kristin Miller, assistant professor of public relations, helped build the partnership between the university and the League for the Blind and Disabled.

“They needed a friend-raiser, an opportunity for their donors and their consumers to interact in some way.”

The need for a friend-raiser started what became a service learning project for nearly the entire School of Creative Arts at USF. The common theme between the different pieces in what became the Sensing Beauty exhibit is an answer to the question, what is beautiful to you? Public relations and photography students interviewed clients from the League and with some help from local artists, turned their answers into artwork everyone can appreciate.

“You just plug it into one of these and it will tell you which exhibit to start at. Then the volume controls are here and that’s it.” A USF student helps a visitor learn how to use an assisted listening device.

Wearing an earpiece during a tour can be part of many exhibits, but it’s essential for experiencing Sensing Beauty. USF partnered with Listen Technologies to pilot the devices that sit on a charging station near the entrance to the gallery. For those unable to see the artwork, the pocket-sized assisted listening device plays a description of each piece in the exhibit.

“One depiction of the boy is sighted, his face downcast, looking seriously at the small plastic dinosaurs, he holds in his hands.” Many of the voices describing the works are the artists themselves. Others came from the students and faculty advisors. The recordings were produced with help from USF music technology students who added the music beds to enhance the experience.

But as a multi-sensory experience implies, there’s more to it than just listening. One exhibit, a piece by Theresa Thompson, was 3D printed by 3DPhotoWorks in New York and visitors are encouraged to touch. Here’s Cara Wade, professor of studio art and photography.

“So everything is lifted from the surface and some things are lifted slightly, and my favorite part is his hand, cause you can feel where the lift of the veins of his hand are.”

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Credit Mollie Shutt
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Visitors to "Sensing Beauty" touch a piece by Theresa Thompson

Descriptions of the artwork are also written in braille. Wade says it was a great experience for those involved to come to a better understanding of the language, even with something as simple as realizing how their own names look or feel spelled out in braille.

For the opening of the exhibit, snacks are provided that pair well with the artwork. The taste of s’mores matches some the outdoor scenes.

“Each image also has a smell component, a scent component, and that’s something that relates to the piece, and so you can have that sensory experience as well," Wade said.

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Credit Mollie Shutt
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Several of the pieces also have scent components.

All five senses are represented.

Wade’s photography students were asked to produce two pieces each. The first would be based off of what the person they interviewed thinks is beautiful. The second would be based off of what they think is beautiful. Many students found that creating the second piece was more challenging than the first.

The artists who contributed found every step of the process involved some form of translation. The multiple paragraph statements that went along with each piece had to be universally understood whether or not the person experiencing the piece has a visual impairment. Here’s photographer Karen Thompson.

“It was like speaking another language and you didn’t know any of the vocabulary, so you were almost making sounds that might be understood.”

The day Sensing Beauty opened, the gallery became more and more crowded as students, faculty, and others experiencing the artwork made their way from piece to piece. The exhibit is free and open to the public and will remain in the Lupke Gallery at USF’s North Campus until May 12.

Audio description of a piece by Karen Thompson

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Audio description of a piece by Theresa Thompson

TThompson1.mp3