An adventure in audio description

26 July 2018

A successful event exploring the possibilities of using audio description in the gallery was held and curated by MA Curation Practices student Gill Crawshaw at Leeds Art Gallery on 19 July 2018.

Twenty-five people, a mix of visually impaired and sighted people, met at Leeds Art Gallery last week. The event was organised by Gill who has been researching the experiences of blind and partially sighted gallery visitors, talking to visually impaired people about their connections to and appreciation of artworks in the gallery. This research informed the curatorial event: an experiment with live audio description.

Audio description relates key visual elements of a scene. In film, theatre or TV it aims to be as objective as possible. Describing art, on the other hand, offers opportunities for innovation and creativity. With this in mind, Gill invited six writers, including artists, poets and storytellers, to produce a description of an artwork in Leeds Art Gallery’s collection, and to read it out at the event, to an audience comprising visually impaired and sighted people.

Image credit: Louise Dwyer, MA Curation Practice 

Brian Lewis, Eleanor Snare, Emma Bolland, Matthew Bellwood, Peadar O’Dea and Terry Simpson were the writers who rose to the occasion. Their varied styles and approaches to the task resulted in a wonderful selection of descriptions. They engaged the audience’s emotions and intellect with witty, clever and moving readings, which included stories, a letter and a poem. Writers not only described the artworks, but included political and historical context, information about the artist’s life and work, and their own interpretations.

In the discussions that followed, participants were enthusiastic about the descriptions, which they felt had been effective in bringing the artworks to life and awakening the imagination.  The event showed that improving accessibility can be creative and can benefit everyone.  But, more than anything, it had encouraged everyone to look more closely, to notice more detail and to make deeper connections with art.

Thanks to Leeds Art Gallery for supporting this event.