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UNC Greensboro’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and the Industries of the Blind (IOB) have announced the second iteration of a public art piece which tells the stories of the blind and low-visioned using sight, sound, and touch.

The installation is located at the IOB building at the corner of Gate City Boulevard and Tate Street, one of the main entrances to the UNCG campus. It is the culmination of an innovative collaboration between the IOB and the CVPA’s School of Art as well as the Department of Interior Architecture, University Libraries, and the Creative Writing MFA program.

Sight: Students in Associate Professor Mariam Stephan’s Painting III class were paired with IOB employees for a series of conversations focused on ideas of independence, empowerment, and access. Based on those conversations, the students created paintings which were then printed on 8 ft. x 10 ft. banners hung on the side of the IOB building.

Sound: Professor Nicole Scalissi’s Art History students worked with the painters to record verbal descriptions of the paintings and narratives surrounding their creation. Creative Writing MFA students from the Department of English, under the direction of Professor Xhenet Aliu, created poetry and prose pieces inspired by the paintings. To hear these narratives and stories, participants can press a button on audio boxes under the banners – which were designed and constructed by Derek Toomes’ Interior Architecture students.

Touch: Not only can the paintings be viewed, they can also be experienced by the blind and low-visioned through touch. Installed beneath each banner is a touchable bas-relief ceramic sculpture created by Professor Nikki Blair’s students. These artworks represent a three-dimensional version of the banners. Images, audio material, transcripts, and more stories will be publicly available online through a website designed by Assistant Professor Maggie Murphy and hosted by UNCG University Libraries.

This is the second iteration of a three-year project. Next year, come see a new group of artwork and sounds created by a new group of IOB employees and CVPA students. Adam Carlin, director of community engagement for CVPA, initiated and has led the project, including the writing of grants totalling $27,900. He says it started as a way to support the School of Art’s community-engaged activities, but it grew to something much bigger.

“This is a project that has the potential for far-reaching impact not only to UNCG students and Industries of the Blind employees, but for the entire community,” Carlin says. “Creating public art that is experienced through sight, sound, and touch has allowed UNCG students to expand their artistic practice to be more accessible for the community. It is our hope that this approach can inspire countless other artists in our community. The project will also act as a window into Industries of the Blind, allowing them to share their thoughts, feelings, and hopes for anyone who passes by the building.”

“The partnership between Industries of the Blind and UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts will be a long-running project as there are many stories to tell from people who are blind or low-vision that the community needs to hear,” he says. “This collaboration will build a more inclusive community, providing education through art, demonstrating what people are capable of, and will highlight what IOB can provide to the surrounding community in the form of employment opportunities and personal growth for people who are blind or low-vision.”

Richard Oliver, director of community outreach at Industries of the Blind, says the partnership has proven successful. “Industries of the Blind is proud to collaborate with UNCG on such a tremendous project. These pieces of art capture the journeys of our associates and show the empowerment and sense of achievement that all Industries of the Blind associates strive for as they work towards their American Dream.”

Sean MacInnes, UNCG’s sustainability specialist, has this to say about this project being a recipient of the Green Fund: “The heart of UNCG’s mission is to make the world a better place by building thriving and vibrant communities. This project, with its synergistic connections to the environment, economics, aesthetics, and social equity, is an embodiment of that mission. This isn’t just a simple beautification or place-making project. It was a collaborative effort, it encourages interaction, and it elevates the connections we have with each other and with the places in which we live, work, and play. We’re excited to be a part of it and look forward to future iterations.”

Workers install new artwork on the wall of the Industries of the Blind building on Gate City Boulevard.
Tanessa Brown from the Industries of the Blind touches a relief sculpture as part of an installation based on her as the subject.
Workers install a relief sculpture on the Industries of the Blind building.

Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications

 
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