Five years ago, in 2015, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art launched a department of inclusive programs. At the time, inclusion was only making its first steps in the territory of Russian art institutions.
Throughout the years of its existence, many things have changed, including the understanding of the very term “inclusion”, the department’s sections and staff, as well as the attitude to inclusion in the city and country. But most importantly, we have maintained the passion to strive to shape an inclusive society within the museum environment—and beyond.
Coinciding with International Museum day, the 2020 theme of which is “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”, we recount some of the programs and projects released by Garage’s Inclusive Programs department over the past five years.
Having concentrated a great deal of attention on working with the professional community since its launch, Garage’s Inclusive Programs ran its first training program—Experiencing the Museum—in September 2015, less than a month after the department was established. The program focused on cultural institutions’ work with deaf and hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired, as well as deaf-blind museum visitors.
The training program later evolved into the international conference Experiencing the Museum. Conference materials have formed the basis for eponymous compilations of printed guidelines on working with people with disabilities.
Opened in summer 2016, the exhibition Co-thinkers offered a novel, in the Russian context, curatorial approach to the notion of inclusion. The project’s work group featured co-thinkers—four regular visitors to Garage, all of them people with disabilities.
Co-thinkers exhibited selected works by contemporary artists ranging from Maurizio Cattelan to Antony Gormley from private Moscow collections. Together with Garage curators, the co-thinkers themselves engaged in the development of exhibition design and discussed issues dealing with displaying the pieces on show. They also contributed to the creation of interactive modules featuring a variety of different information mediums, such as audio descriptions of works, comments in Russian Sign Language, and tactile models.
The project then traveled to other cultural institutions across Russia, including the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center (Yekaterinburg) and the Arsenal (Nizhny Novgorod).
More than 1,500 people participated in guided tours featuring simultaneous translation to Russian Sign Language (RSL) in the first year since they were launched at Garage. Having analyzed the gained experience, the Museum’s team realized the necessity to carry out a systematic approach to the organization of tours for deaf and hard of hearing visitors. This is how the concept of a training course for deaf guides first came up.
The eventual program prepared by the department was launched in November 2016, while its first course of students graduated in February 2018. The program contained five education blocks along with internships in some of Moscow’s top art museums.
The course graduates ran tours in RSL at various cultural institutions around Moscow and promoted art among deaf and hard of hearing audiences.
The course, specially designed for blind and visually impaired visitors, was launched at Garage in 2016 and has since been running twice a year.
For a blind person, architecture often appears as something inaccessible, excluding the image of the city from their world picture. The course Architecture. Accessibly is aimed at introducing its members to some basic architectural principles and the specificity of selected architectural movements of various epochs. The acquired sensual and tactile experience of architecture helps to further facilitate the perception of audio descriptions of buildings made by the interpreter and acquaints the participants with an integral part of their material environment.
Garage has delivered workshops based around this course at many public events outside the Museum, including cities such as Samarkand (Uzbekistan), Kazan, and Nizhny Novgorod (both Russian Federation).
In spring 2017, a hundred-meter-long wall featuring children’s drawings was erected just outside Garage, with all drawings depicting the same object—the rainbow in all the possible forms and types. For the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, engaging the viewer in co-authoring an artwork is a key principle of his practice.
1,500 kids, including deaf and hard of hearing children, as well as children with different disabilities, agreed to assist the artist throughout the complicated process of making a huge street installation where common selection methods and curator’s “solutions” become ineffective.
Between June 10 and September 10, 2017, the Museum participated in the International Specialized Exhibition Astana EXPO–2017 in Kazakhstan, where, alongside an exhibition project and a library on contemporary art, Garage presented its public and inclusive programs. On offer for deaf and hard of hearing visitors were tours translated into Russian Sign Language. For visitors with learning disability, the Museum developed additional learning materials and visual guidebooks. Tours for blind and visually impaired visitors were accompanied by audio descriptions of works and the use of tactile models. The Inclusive Programs department also printed postcards featuring international sign fingerspelling.
Along with exhibition and education events, Garage’s Inclusive Programs department adapts the Garage Live program of performances. The first large-scale adaptation project for deaf and hard of hearing visitors was the staging of Dmitry Volkostrelov’s performance 1968. New World in the summer 2018.
Garage completed the performance with translation to Russian Sign Language, having invited three RSL interpreters who, apart from the narrators’ texts, translated other sounds to create a special atmosphere, such as, for instance, the sound of film rewinding, dialogues reproduced only in audio format during the performance.
The Garage performance was nominated for the Golden Mask National Theatre Award (2019) in the Drama categories “Best Small-Scale Production” and “Best Director”.
Part of Experiencing the Museum: Visitors with Learning Disability (2017), Garage organized a series of dance master classes delivered by the Australian choreographer Philipp Channels with the contribution of Ballet Moscow dancers and adult performers with learning disability.
The following year the project resumed in St. Petersburg where Philipp Channels’ three-day dance laboratory in collaboration with the team of Dance Integrated Australia ran on New Holland Island. Invited to join in the lab were participants with any backgrounds, from professional dancers with or without learning disability to people without disabilities and dance experience.
In 2016, Garage’s Inclusive Programs department launched the first Russian dictionary of contemporary art terms in Russian Sign Language. Released as a video course and developed in collaboration with experts and RSL native speakers, the dictionary made contemporary art more accessible by filling the multiple linguistic gaps in the field of contemporary art from the RSL perspective.
Three years later, the gained experience was accumulated to produce interactive video content for children and family audiences, and in fall 2019, Garage launched Signing Museums for Kids—an education mobile app that helps children to learn more about the art world through studying its terms in Russian Sign Language. Each term is shown using a short video featuring deaf kids who use their native Russian Sign Language to explain art to their peers.
The first project of Inclusive department’s digital platform, the app is also available and will be helpful for hearing people studying sign language.
Inclusion in an art institution implies the creation of conditions that will allow any person to participate in various social, cultural, and artistic initiatives. This is a key rule prevalent in all of the Museum’s departments. From September to January, two deaf artists—Natalia Romanova and Adil Aliev—successfully passed the competition to become Garage Workshops residents.
Hearing artists who do not speak RSL were invited to take part in our introductory course on the basics of sign language, as well as lectures on the art of the deaf, delivered by the deaf historian Viktor Palenny. Our sign language interpreters always attend general meetings and workshops ensuring that information and communication are accessible to all Garage Workshops members.
Expanding society’s understanding of inclusion, the Inclusive Programs department launched a new direction, focusing on working with people with migration and forced migration backgrounds in 2019. Its first formats were public talks and discussions around migration, its preconditions and current trends.
Point of Displacement Festival is conceived as a platform for dialogue and exchange of stories and opinions, for reflecting on humanity’s current movement, and the role of megalopolis as a starting point. The festival is due to run annually, coinciding with World Refugee Day (June 20). The festival is co-organized together with the Museum of Moscow, State Tretyakov Gallery, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the integration center Kids Are Kids and the education project Neighbors’ Languages School.
An animation workshop for teens with and without learning disabilities took place at Garage from February 8 to March 14, 2020. This is an inclusive mini course for everyone who likes animation. Participants of the workshops made an animated picture and the resulting film is very multilayered, underlining the individuality of each of its authors. A collaborative project developed by kids with and without learning disability, it is an important step on the path from special, separated disability groups toward involvement in social life and activities without any divisions.
The film Planet 0: Red and Also Yellow is available for watching via the link.
Part of the UK–Russia Year of Music organized by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Moscow with the support of the British Council, Garage played host to a performance by the Bristol-based collective British Paraorchestra—an orchestra featuring professional musicians with and without disabilities, that has been performing since 2011.
Paraorchestra presented The Anatomy of the Orchestra: Refractions and Abstractions—a program that also featured elements of installation—in the Museum’s Atrium space. Invited to wander amongst the ensemble, spectators could choose their own movement trajectories, approach musicians, and feel the pulse of music through touching the instruments.
Garage’s inclusive practices reflect a more global concept that defines its long-term strategic planning. The Museum’s overall performance derives from the notion of diversity which implies commitment to the idea that each person is unique and has their own special characteristics, while the basis of diversity is our mutual respect for otherness.
Coming up in fall 2020, Garage will publish the inaugural issue of the Garage Journal dedicated to academic research in the field of art, museums, and culture. The first issue’s theme—accessibility and equality—is where the periodical originates from, emphasizing that a contemporary museum has to be open to everyone and take into account the needs of different people, because diversity has grown into a global trend today and instigates changes in many areas of society’s life.
The Garage Journal invites scholars exploring museum accessibility, diversity (or lack thereof) in the art environment, the representation of sex, race, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental conditions in art, and other topics dealing with accessibility, inclusive practices and diversity.
For more information about accepting applications for publishing materials, see The Garage Journal website.
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