Sensing Culture

Women reading a display whilst another woman stands behind smiling and wearing simulation spectacles

Sensing Culture is a multi-partner project led by RNIB, aiming to remove barriers that prevent people with sight loss from accessing museums and heritage sites.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) provided £438,900 to fund the project after a need to improve access to heritage sites was identified within the heritage sector and organisations supporting blind and partially sighted people. Four museums and heritage sites took part in the project including: 

  • Canterbury City Council Museums including Canterbury Cathedral and Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
  • Oxford University Museums and Collections including Museum of Natural History
  • Portsmouth City Council’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, The Richard Lancelyn Green Bequest
  • Sussex Archaeological Society, Lewes Castle

Blind and partially sighted people were involved in the project from its early developments to delivery, making new accessible experiences available within the partner museums and heritage sites. Blind and partially sighted people supported the project, acting as mentors and advisors, from working on project stands, to artists working professionally within their field, access consultants and heritage professionals. Their involvement in influencing the journey of the project was vital in ensuring that the experiences created at the end met the needs of blind and partiality sighted visitors.
 

"HLF is delighted to have been able to support the Sensing Culture project, thanks to National Lottery players. The project provided a wonderful opportunity for colleagues from the heritage sector, disability organisations, and beyond to share learning and build ambition around inclusive practice. We look forward to heritage sites using the Sensing Culture resources and including more disabled people in every aspect of the sector." Caroline George, HLF Grants Officer, and Liz Ellis, HLF Policy Advisor. 

Project report and key learnings

Visit the Sensing Culture website to find resources and information about how you can make your museum or heritage site more accessible. You'll also find the project's evaluation report and key learnings. 

 

Project Achievements
 

"Sensing Culture has become a springboard for discussion and learning for other heritage sites looking to undertake similar projects. It's put blind and partially sighted people high up on the agenda within the heritage sector and really embedded this audience in a new cultural approach." Helen Atwere, RNIB Senior Manager Specialist Operations.

Canterbury City Council Museums (CCCM): Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

Blind and partially sighted participants were encouraged to interpret the museum’s collections through facilitated and accessible artistic workshops. The outcomes of the workshop were exhibited in the Beaney’s Front Room Gallery, putting the artists into the frame as having voices worth paying attention to, and showing that sight loss doesn't prevent creativity. Participants felt the workshops helped them feel that they had value in society. 

A music outreach project at the same museum resulted in an Arts Award for 12 blind and partially sighted children. The children, in collaboration with a professional musician, wrote a music piece called Beany Butterfly which interprets a piece of art into music. 

Oxford University Museums and Collections (OUMC)

OUMC focused on changing the culture and attitude towards blind and partially sighted people by offering members of staff and volunteers audio description (AD) training across four sites and training on welcoming visitors with sight loss into the museums. In addition, a series of touch tours were created along with training on how to deliver them. 
 

“Sensing Culture has been a real springboard for the museum – it's put blind and partially sighted people high up on our agenda and really embedded this audience in new cultural thinking here.” Susan Griffiths, OUMC. 

The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection (ACDC)

This paper-based archive doesn’t have a museum of it’s own. Sensing Culture brought the collection out of the archive so it could be enjoyed by blind and partially sighted people.

With the support of Portsmouth University, a creative approach was used to incorporate multiple textures as well as heat and vibration. These techniques communicated specific interpretations of two key images representing aspects of the life and work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS) - Lewes Castle and Barbican Museum sites

One barrier to experiencing the view of the South downs from the top of the castle is the 100 steps leading up to it. The focus during the project was to create an audio guide accessed via an app. A sound artist created a representation of the view called ‘Sonic Poems to the South Downs’ using poetry, song, interviews and landscape recordings. 

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