Las Vegas, N.M – All people including ones with disabilities can more fully experience the power of a poem, thanks to a multisensory interactive exhibit Highlands University media arts students are creating.
The students’ exhibit engages the senses through elements like braille beads, an audio recording, orange peels and junipers, sign language, a film and heart-shaped ocean rocks.
“This is one of the most impressive exhibition teams I’ve seen with the students weaving together the practical and conceptual elements of the exhibit to find subtle yet highly effective ways for people to experience the poem with all their senses,” said Lesley Kadish, a fellow in the Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program. “These students were fantastic on so many creative and technical levels. They tackled the great challenge of taking the felt and unseen in the poem and translating it into a tangible experience for all the senses.”
Kadish, who is also a researcher with Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture & Technology Department, met with the media arts students Feb. 22 to help them refine their prototype and design ideas.
“Museums tend to be highly visual places where objects and text are favored as mediums of interpretation. There’s an emerging trend to understand sensory learning in museums to make exhibits more accessible. The students’ commitment to accessibility also speaks to the fact that they are a forward thinking, innovative team,” Kadish said.
The students are interns in media art’s one-of-a-kind AmeriCorps Cultural Technology (ACT) program that places them in museums and cultural institutions throughout New Mexico from the National Hispanic Cultural Center to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Lauren Addario directs ACT and is teaching the AmeriCorps interns a mentorship class spring semester where they are creating the multisensory exhibit.
“Accessibility needs to be addressed to help bring our museums and cultural institutions into the center of community life for all people including those with sensory exceptionalities,” Addario said. “When our media arts students learn to consider all potential museum visitors they are helping create a more inclusive world. This exhibit work is also equipping students with more tools to problem solve and think outside the box.”
Addario said her students decided to take a poem written by Tara Trudell, one of their AmeriCorps classmates, and turn it into a multisensory experience.
“This exhibit is a collaborative effort where each student took ownership over a section of the poem and decided how to translate it into various senses such as auditory, smell, touch and texture,” Addario said.
Trudell earned her BFA in media arts from Highlands and is an AmeriCorps intern at the United World College – USA. She is a poet, filmmaker and immigration activist. She said she wrote the poem, Rising Star, to honor her father, John Trudell, who died in December 2015.
“My own senses were heightened when I was with my dad during his final week, and that’s what gave the poem its life,” Trudell said. “The challenge is how do we take a poem and give people a well-rounded sensory experience by taking the poetry off the page and making it interactive. We want to create an experience that resonates long after they read the poem.”
Kadish said with the multisensory exhibit, the media arts students are creating an ambience that is tied to feeling, along with a safe place to experience the grief, beauty and wonderment of Trudell’s poem.