Las Vegas, N.M – A multisensory museum exhibit that gives tribute to a Native American poet, musician and activist can be experienced by everyone – including those with disabilities – thanks to Highlands University media arts students.
The reception for the exhibit Rising Star: A Tribute to John Trudell is Aug. 12 from 5 – 7 p.m. at 166 Bridge St. in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The exhibit is open Aug. 8 – 12 from 5 – 7 p.m.
“Pay attention to all the senses as you move through the installation,” said Lauren Addario, director of media arts’ one-of-a-kind AmeriCorps Cultural Technology (ACT) program. “There are braille beads along the walls, smells, textures, American Sign Language, video and audio.”
The multisensory exhibit is a collaborative effort between interns in the AmeriCorps Cultural Technology program and was created in the 2015 – 2016 academic year.
“The exhibit is a response to our yearlong focus on accessibility in museums. Over the summer, the students refined the exhibit to be more accommodating to those with physical exceptionalities, such as individuals in wheelchairs,” Addario said.
Addario said the students in her mentorship class decided to take a poem written by their fellow AmeriCorps intern Tara Trudell and turn it into a multisensory exhibit. Trudell wrote the poem Rising Star as a tribute to her father John Trudell, who died in December 2015.
“During my dad’s last week of life, I was acutely aware of our shared sensory environment – from the sage and juniper smoke to freshly-peeled oranges and the cool misty ocean air of Northern California,” Trudell said. “Later, when I wrote the poem, these sensory experiences helped me capture the emotions that I shared with him in his last moments. The exhibit incorporates these sensory elements. When the senses are involved, grief can be an enlightened and valuable experience in the healing process.”
John Trudell was a Santee Sioux who first entered the public eye in 1969 as a spokesperson for the Indian of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz island. He was the chairman of the American Indian Movement from 1973 — 1979. In addition to his published poetry and other writing, John Trudell was also an acclaimed musician. His band, Bad Dog, performed a unique brand of blues nationwide as well as in Europe.
Tara Trudell is a poet, filmmaker, multimedia artist and immigration activist. She earned her BFA in media arts from Highlands and is an AmeriCorps intern at the United World College – USA.
Other media arts AmeriCorps interns who worked on the exhibit include Johnny Alvarez, Allie Burnquist, Jacob Erickson, Matthew A. Gallegos, Victoria Gomez, Christopher Killion, Felicia Lovato and Natasha Rudolph.
Erickson, who earned his media arts BFA in film and audio, created a sign language video for the exhibit and also documented the exhibit’s creation through video.
“Sign language is a very visual, fluid language,” Erickson said. “It was captivating to see how Highlands sign language instructor Carol Litherland translated the written words and ideas of the poem into a visual story for everyone – including deaf people.”
In February 2016, Lesley Kadish, a fellow in the Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program, met with the students to help them refine their exhibit design and prototype.
“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 Kadish, who is also a researcher at Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology Department. “The Highlands students’ commitment to accessibility also speaks to the fact that they are a forward thinking, innovative team.”
Addario and Kadish will present their students’ multisensory exhibit projects at the Museum Computer Network annual conference in New Orleans Nov. 1 – 4. Trudell will also be part of the presentation, along with a Georgetown University student.