by Carolyn Meade
In 2014, WIF awarded $54,600 to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art for its “School and Community Outreach” program. The Bechtler has used its WIF grant to send artists into the community to provide art classes for public school students, incarcerated youth and adults, individuals with developmental disabilities, and individuals with low-to-no-vision.
The need was great, and the response has been enthusiastic. One of the elementary schools is now using funds from the Arts & Science Council to continue the program. Within the prison system, inmates say the class “has generated an entirely new theme of discussion” after they return to their cell pods. Anecdotally, Bechtler staff have been told that inmates in other county jail facilities have tried to transfer into the facilities that participate in the Bechtler’s Jail Arts Initiative.
The low-to-no-vision program offers a variety of arts learning in the museum, including art-making workshops and tactile tours where participants get a chance physically to interact with certain pre-selected pieces of art. Participants quite literally get to “feel” art in ways that had previously been off-limits to them. All who participate in this program describe this aspect of the tour as an “amazing experience.”
The School and Community Outreach Program responded to what the museum had seen: chronically unserved areas of the community have few opportunities to visit museums and interact with artwork. The Bechtler is on the front line in providing community-wide access and inclusion to its collection through its partnerships with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, InReach and the Metrolina Association for the Blind.