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Weekly Job Roundup! (09/17/2023)

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Weekly Job Roundup (4/25/2023)

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Weekly Job Roundup (4/12/2023)

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Accessibility & ASD within the Museum

Serving a variety of topics from art to science, museums and similar cultural institutions seek to be immersive centers of education and community. A growing emphasis on visitor-focused programming has taken root in museums in the 21stcentury, posing a challenge of accessibility. To serve an entire community effectively, museums must incorporate the educational needs of their constituents into their offerings. This endeavor is not easily achieved, however, due to the wide variety of learning styles and intellectual abilities of any audience.  It is the job of the museum to invest in programmatic planning to target marginalized audiences, such as those with developmental disabilities who are often excluded from public spaces due to their complex needs. This systemic exclusion exacerbates the social isolation of this audience: “Stigma is the greatest barrier to participating in public spaces.”[1] This is especially true for audiences experiencing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition that produces a broad range of abilities and needs. Museums therefore must take direct action to combat this stigma through tailored programming for adults and children with ASD in order to fulfil their missions of community accessibility. 

Developing programming for children and adults with ASD is not straightforward because of the great intellectual diversity of those with this diagnosis. There is great variation in how ASD affects an individual’s intelligence and behavior, and symptoms vary in severity.[2] Some individuals may be significantly intellectually impaired with affects on their literacy and communication abilities. Others may experience advanced skills in some categories with pronounced weaknesses in others. For children with autism, sensory needs are particularly pronounced as sensory input affects participation. For this reason, children are more likely to stay home than participate in external activities that may overwhelm their senses.[3] For adults who have had longer experience with navigating their symptoms, experiencing external activities and surmounting the sensory challenges they pose can be an empowering form of self-advocacy because it fosters a deeper understanding of their condition.[4] A common need for individuals with autism is rigidity and routine, meaning individuals would benefit optimally from consistent programming that can establish a routine frequency of visits.[5] For these reasons, museum visits can be extremely beneficial, however the existence of triggers and barriers often curtails this potential.

Visitors with ASD directly benefit from positive programming. For example, participants from successful programs reported that they would feel comfortable returning to the museum during normal operating hours without crowd reduction, meaning this program contributed to an increase in confidence in handling social outings.[6] Increased familiarity with the environment of a museum could assist in building coping strategies to overcome triggers.[7]Opportunities to participate in sensory friendly programs increase the confidence of participants because they are able to interact with others in an environment controlled to meet their sensory and social needs.[8] These positive experiences are therefore powerful in reducing the social marginalization of autistic audiences and increases their sensory resilience.

Among the activities most appreciated and impactful in ASD-friendly programming is the act of artmaking. Artmaking can stand alone as the core activity of the program or can be incorporated as an exhibition element. Artmaking is highly interactive, and survey results showed audiences responded well to exhibitions that had interactive features. Artmaking specifically stimulates visual and motor senses within a controlled environment.[9]

One of the most popular museum programs for adults and children with ASD is a sensory reduction session featuring reduced museum operations. While effective, this program also presents a paradox in destigmatizing ASD. Sensory reduction programs are typically hours reserved for audiences with developmental disabilities who may be overwhelmed by large crowds or exhibit audio. Because the audience for these programs are largely neurodivergent individuals and family, participants may enjoy the activities free from the judgment of other neurotypical museum guests who may not understand autistic behaviors or reactions.[10] In this setting, families often enjoy a sense of solidarity or recognition of their challenges and identities. 

Lastly, one of the most significant offerings a museum can provide to its neurodivergent audiences is electronic resources which may help them prepare for an in-person visit. Studies have shown that families affected by ASD may avoid museums altogether out of fear of unfamiliar environments. Plan-making can counteract this uncertainty, and families may seek to identify museum guidelines ahead of a visit to account for emergency exits, spaces for quiet time, and other resources to address emergent physical or emotional needs.[11] By making this information available online, museums can increase accessibility by helping families plan for their visits

As is evident in the complex development process for special needs programming, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving accessibility for neurodivergent audiences. These museum visitors benefit from a range of activities that will address their spectrum of sensory, intellectual, and social needs. While museums have historically been inaccessible to these vulnerable communities, efforts by museum educators to bridge the gap with programming have been mutually beneficial for the participants, their families, and the host institutions. More comprehensive studies are needed to evaluate the success of such programs, and museums should prioritize this audience because of the rapidly increasing rate of autism diagnoses. By integrating the autistic community into its operations, museums have the powerful ability to set the standard for the de-stigmatization of developmental disabilities.

Article by: Danielle Maurer

MA Candidate, History and Museum Studies

Tufts University ’23

[1] Libby Hladick et al., “Accessibility and Inclusion for Families with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Cultural Institutions,” Curator: The Museum Journal 65, no. 2 (2022): 437.

[2] Langa et al., “Improving the Museum Experiences of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Their Families,” 323.

[3] Hladik et al., “Accessibility and Inclusion for Families with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Cultural Institutions,” 436.

[4] Sam Theriault and Beth Redmond Jones, “Constructing Knowledge Together: Collaborating with and Understanding Young Adults with Autism,” Journal of Museum Education 43, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 369.

[5] Hladik et al., “Accessibility and Inclusion for Families with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Cultural Institutions,” 436.

[6] Mulligan et al., “Examination of a Museum Program for Children with Autism,” 2013, 313.

[7] Langa et al., “Improving the Museum Experiences of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Their Families,” 328.

[8] Kulik and Fletcher, “Considering the Museum Experience of Children with Autism,” 28.

[9] Mulligan et al., “Examination of a Museum Program for Children with Autism,” 2013, 313–16.

[10] Kulik and Fletcher, “Considering the Museum Experience of Children with Autism,” 28.

[11] Woodruff, “Finding Museum Visitors with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” 83–84.

The David Reconsidered: Art, Censorship, and Outrage

Michelangelo’s David (censored). © edit Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic.

If you have been anywhere near social media this week, it’s likely you’ve heard about the recent controversy that has pushed a small Florida school into a global spotlight. At the Tallahassee Classical school, sixth graders were learning about Michelangelo’s David, a standard part of the curriculum. There was nothing standard, however, about the response. Three parents complained about their children being shown a “pornographic” statue, leading to the principal’s resignation and a viral, international response.

Completed in 1504, Michelangelo’s 17-foot-tall David shows the titular Biblical hero waiting in anticipation for his foe, Goliath. Created when Michelangelo was in his 20s, it has today become one of the most recognizable works of Italian Renaissance art. First intended to decorate one of the buttresses of Florence’s cathedral, it was instead moved to the piazza in front of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s one-time seat of government. There, David faced southward, towards Rome, a symbol of the young republic’s underdog status and resilience against the mighty Papal States. Today, it is instead on display in the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it looms at the end of a grand hallway lined with Michelangelo’s Slaves.

The Galleria dell’Accademia pairs the David with to Michelangelo’s Slaves. © Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze

The David has been an essential part of the art history curriculum since Vasari first collected artist biographies in his famous Lives. From the careful rendering of anatomy to the contrapposto pose full of coiled energy, this sculpture reveals many facets of the Renaissance style lauded by Vasari and subsequent art historians. A celebration of the idealized human form and a reflection of the artistic fashions of the early sixteenth century, its nudity is far from unusual. The walls of the Vatican, the seat of the Holy See, are filled with nude or semi-nude figures. Michelangelo himself painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the current site of the Papal Conclave, depicting several such individuals. Still, This Florida school is not the first to take issue with figures, even religious ones, which are shown without clothes. In Post-Tridentine Rome, the nudes in the Sistine Chapel were viewed with a much more critical eye. The Roman artist Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to cover their genitals with clothing, earning him the unfortunate nickname Il Braghettone, or The Breeches Maker.

While Michelangelo’s reputation as one of the great artists in the art historical canon has largely ensured the study of his oeuvre ad infinitum, this recent controversy reveals that even he is not exempt from outrage. After the school began receiving complaints from parents, it gave its principal, Hope Carrasquilla, two choices—resign or be fired. Barney Bishop III, chair of the school board, made the issue clear; above all else, it was a question of parents’ rights. The outrage revolved around an email the administration accidentally forgot to send to parents, informing them of the inclusion of the nude David in that particular class. In an interview with Slate, Bishop also insisted that Carrasquilla had not been fired, but had rather resigned, although he also acknowledges that it was a forced resignation.

Visitors in front of Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia. © AP Photo, Alessandra Tarantino.

In Bishop’s view, it is the parent, not the teacher, or even the school board, who decides what is or isn’t appropriate for students to learn. This is, of course, a strange sentiment in light of the extensive training, education, and certifications that most educators and administrators must earn. Why shouldn’t these professionals be allowed to shape the curriculum without fear that it might lead to their termination if a handful of parents disagree? However, as Bishop stated in his interview with Slate, in Florida “Parents will decide. Parents are the ones who are going to drive the education system here in Florida. The governor said that, and we’re with the governor.”

This cannot be considered without bringing into the conversation the recent wave of legislation, especially in Florida, surrounding parents’ rights in education. Legislation like the “Parental Rights in Education” bill signed into law in 2022, restricts or entirely prohibits discussions of gender and sexuality in schools. Bishop’s views on this are clear: “We’re not gonna teach 1619 or CRT crap. I know they do all that up in Virginia. The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids. Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities, you’re on better drugs than me.”

Dario Nardella’s tweet, reading “I will personally invite the teacher to Florence to give her a recognition in the name of the city. Art is civilization and whoever teaches it merits respect.”

Responses to this have been swift, with social media fueling the spread of the story and subsequent interviews. The mayor of Florence himself tweeted in support of the principal (who he incorrectly identifies as a teacher), inviting them to Florence and adding “Art is civilization, and whoever teaches it merits respect.” In an article with the Associated Press, Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia where the David is currently housed, invited Florida’s school board, former principal, parents, and students to visit the museum and see for themselves the “purity” of the statue, adding “To think that David could be pornographic means truly not understanding the contents of the Bible, not understanding Western culture and not understanding Renaissance art.”

The crux of this story is the restrictive policies—often centered around sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism—which are increasingly shaping children’s education throughout the United States. What this incident reveals is that even a masterpiece that has been praised for centuries is not exempt from this type of outrage. Museums play an important role in preserving and communicating art and history to the public. However, if these policies continue to be enacted, their ability to educate will be severely impeded. We must turn a critical eye to the biases and discrimination that are at the heart of incidents such as this one in order to best protect museums and schools, curators and educators, teachers and students, from the restrictive mindset of a loud minority.

Further Reading:

Winfield, Nicole, and Terry Spencer. “Is the David porn? Come see, Italians tell Florida parents.” AP News. March 27, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/italy-michelangelo-hillsdale-florida-florence-david-56d2977c3fceefd02f475f9d4d0be3d9

Kois, Dan. “An Interview With the School Board Chair Who Forced Out a Principal After Michelangelo’s David  Was Shown in Class.” Slate. March 23, 2023. https://slate.com/human-interest/2023/03/florida-principal-fired-michelangelo-david-statue.html

Gabbatt, Adam. “Art, not pornography: Florence museum invites Florida parents to see the David.” The Guardian. March 27, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/27/michelangelo-david-florida-florence-museum-school

Akers, Torey. “Florida school principal fired for showing students Michelangelo’s ‘pornographic’ David sculpture.” The Art Newspaper. March 23, 2023. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/03/23/florida-principal-fired-michelangelo-david-pornographic

Akers, Torey. “Florence’s mayor invites Florida students and their former principal to experience the ‘purity’ of Michelangelo’s David.” The Art Newspaper. March 27, 2023. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/03/27/florence-mayor-invites-floridians-michelangelo-david

Velie, Elaine. “Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture.” Hyperallergic. March 24, 2023. https://hyperallergic.com/810358/florida-principal-ousted-over-pornographic-michelangelo-sculpture/

Kim, Juliana. A principal is fired, invited to Italy after students are shown Michelangelo’s ‘David’.” NPR. March 27, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/27/1166079167/tallahassee-classical-michelangelo-david-principal-fired

Article by Francesca Bisi

MA Candidate in Art History and Museum Studies, Tufts University

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