Edinburgh's art galleries launch 'descriptive tours' for blind and visually-impaired people

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Edinburgh’s art galleries have launched specially designed tours to open up the city’s art to visually-impaired people, inviting them to hear, feel and experience art.

Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, which manages 14 of the city’s major cultural venues, is hosting tours to help blind and partially sighted people access the city’s best exhibitions.

Tessa Asquith-Lamb leads a descriptive tour for people with little or no sight of the Victoria Crowe exhibition at City Art Centre.

Tessa Asquith-Lamb leads a descriptive tour for people with little or no sight of the Victoria Crowe exhibition at City Art Centre.

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These “descriptive tours” see an artist trained in gallery education lead participants through the collections, recounting each piece to them in detail, sometimes using touch to enhance the experience.

Anne Dignan, 64, a retired primary school teacher from Portobello, suffers from a condition that causes visual impairment.

This week she attended a tour of the Victoria Crowe exhibition in the City Arts Centre led by artist Tessa Asquith-Lamb.

Ms Asquith-Lamb explained how she helps people with little or no sight enjoy art.

She said: “I describe the surroundings and space we are in, then the size of the artwork and any details that might be important about its display, like its frame or plinth. I then work through the painting describing what is in the composition in each part of the piece.

“I talk about the mood, the expression in a face, the softness in a fabric if we could touch it, speculate on the type of weather or time of day in a piece, how it would feel to be there.

“I sometimes make touchable replica artworks if appropriate using tactile materials to be felt during a tour, or bring in handling materials.”

Ms Dignan said that the tour guide “acts as her eyes” and ‘drew her attention to things that she would never be able to see herself.’ As well as opening up the arts the tours also provide an important social opportunity for people who are often isolated in society.

Ms Dignan added: “These tours act as a great social platform for people which in turn combats loneliness, depression, isolation.

“The tours also stimulate your mind, listening to other people’s ideas. It’s just brilliant.”

Galleries and Museums Edinburgh is committed to making the arts more accessible to all people and have arranged descriptive tours throughout the year, the next of which will take place in September.

Cleodie Mackinnon, 84 from Stockbridge is a retired bookseller and teacher who also suffers from loss of sight due to a degenerative disease.

She attended the tour alongside Ms Dignan and said that the tour “has given me the chance to access art again”.

“It’s been getting increasingly difficult for me because of the degenerative disease I have and the way it effects my sight but the city is starting to have more and more events like these, we are lucky to live here.”

The project is being supported in part by Edinburgh council.