Wisconsin Museums, Theaters and Cinemas Enhance Experience of the Arts

Going to a museum, attending a play or catching a movie are great ways to enrich your senses and learn new things. Wisconsin museums, theaters and cinemas are making these experiences accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Find out how you can experience Wisconsin exhibits, performances, or movies.

At the Museum:

From 3D art to audio tours, four Wisconsin arts centers are creating accessible spaces.

Chazen Museum of Art; Madison, Wisconsin:

What They Do: The Chazen is home to the second-largest art collection in Wisconsin. Paintings, drawings, photographs and decorative art are just a few of the categories included in the museum’s 20,000-piece collection. In addition to gallery exhibitions, they host artist talks, concerts, travelling exhibitions and programs for people of all ages.

What Makes Them Accessible: Upon request, tactile education materials about artistic methods can be incorporated into a tour. Materials are suitable for all ages. Arrangements must be made at least four weeks in advance by contacting Candie Waterloo, Curator of Education, by phone at (608) 263-4421 or by email at cwaterloo@wisc.edu. Put “Vision Impaired Tour Request” in the subject line of your email message.

Service dogs are welcome at the Chazen. The museum is wheelchair accessible.

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum; Wausau, Wisconsin:

What They Do: The mission of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is to enhance lives through art. Their exhibitions change frequently, and they have a sculpture garden, art park, and programs for all ages.

A large brick building surrounded by gardens.
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, fondly referred to as Woodson, is free and open to the public year-round.

What Makes Them Accessible: This museum is one of a handful in the United States—and the only one in Wisconsin—providing audio-enhanced tours. Tours can be accessed with the free smart phone app. For more information, visit lywam.org/learn-do/audio-tours.

Woodson’s “Art Beyond Sight” program gives blind and visually impaired guests the opportunity to experience exhibits through a multi-sensory tour led by a museum educator. Tours are followed by accessible art-making. Call the museum or see their events calendar (lywam.org/events-calendar/) for more details.

The museum also features a tactile art exhibition of sculptures. Five accessible sculptures, comprising the “In Touch with Art: Tactile Sculpture” exhibit, were created by various artists. Sculptor Ann Cunningham was a consultant on the project.

The Woodson museum facilities are wheelchair accessible, and service dogs are welcome.

Milwaukee Art Museum; Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

What They Do: The Milwaukee Art Museum gives people the opportunity to learn about art on their own or in groups.

What Makes Them Accessible: The Milwaukee Art Museum welcomes service dogs and is wheelchair accessible. Hands-on activities teaching some of the techniques used to create art in the galleries are available for people of all ages.

VSA Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin:

What They Do: VSA Wisconsin is a space for people with disabilities to create, display and sell their art. Art and music classes encourage everyone to discover creativity.

What Makes Them Accessible: They offer classes specifically for people with disabilities, and students can openly discuss accommodations with instructors. Drumming classes are offered particularly for people who are blind or visually impaired. VSA Wisconsin is wheelchair accessible.

For organizations which host their travelling exhibit, “Creative Power,” VSA Wisconsin requires each organization to keep accessibility top-of-mind. They recommend following guidelines from the National Endowment of the Arts. These include audio description of visual art, and printed text and signage available in alternative formats such as braille, large print or audio.

In the Theatre:

These three Wisconsin theaters make plays, dances and musical performances accessible in a variety of ways.

Overture Center for the Arts; Madison, Wisconsin:

What They Do: Overture Center for the Arts hosts local and national plays, musicals, dance and other performances.

What Makes Them Accessible: Braille and large print programs are available. Braille programs must be requested one week in advance for Broadway at Overture and Overture Presents events.

Overture now offers live audio description of plays and performances.  Attendees who are blind or visually impaired wear a headset synced to a microphone used by a trained audio describer. Scenery and movement are described throughout the show, and audio description can be adapted to audience members’ wishes.

A man hands a headset to a woman.
A woman receives an audio description headset prior to a show at Overture Center. Photo by: Wisconsin State Journal

It is recommended to request audio descriptions and/or a braille or large print program when you buy your tickets. To request accommodations and order tickets, call the special assistance line at (608) 258-4452.

Overture is wheelchair accessible and welcomes service dogs.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts; Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

What They Do: Marcus Center for the Performing Arts brings Broadway shows and other performances to the Milwaukee area.

What Makes Them Accessible: Braille and large print programs are available for Broadway shows and performances of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Audio Descriptions are typically offered at the 2:00 p.m. Saturday matinee performances of Broadway shows. Contact the Box Office to confirm dates for this service at (414) 273-7206. The theater is wheelchair accessible.

American Players Theater, Spring Green, Wisconsin:

What They Do: Shakespeare and works of other playwrights are performed outdoors at the second-largest outdoor theater and an indoor theatre.

What Makes Them Accessible: Large print playbills are available upon request the day of the performance. Braille playbills must be requested at least three weeks in advance. Service animals are welcome; let the box office know if you will be bringing a service animal. American Players Theater is wheelchair accessible. Badger Bus service is available to the theater on select Sundays from Capitol Lakes in downtown Madison or from St. Bernard Catholic Church in Middleton. The bus cost is $20 per person. Upcoming shows with bus access are: August 18, “August Wilson’s Fences”; September 8, “Macbeth”; September 15, “The Book of Will”. Visit americanplayers.org/special-offers for more information.

At the Movies:

Audio descriptions help set the scene and identify action for moviegoers who are blind or visually impaired.

Did You Know? As of November 2016: Every public theater must have devices for closed-captioning and audio description. They must make this known to the public, and they must have staff who know how to operate the devices. Drive-in movie theaters are exempt from this regulation.

At your Local Cinema: Most Marcus and AMC theaters, located throughout Wisconsin, offer audio description devices. Movie-goers wear headphones plugged into the devices, which deliver audio description and reading of subtitles. Contact your local movie theater for more information.

Audio Description Apps:

Two apps provide audio description tracks you can pair with a movie, as it is playing on a TV or other screen.

Disney Movies Anywhere App: Sixteen animated movies are described by this app for IOS (Apple devices). afb.org/aw/17/6/15326

Actiview App: Twenty-eight movies have audio description through this app for IOS devices, which can be used in the movie theater or at home. acb.org/adp/activiewad.html

Additional Resource:

The Audio Description Project, developed by the American Council of the Blind, lists information about where to find audio described movies, TV shows, museum experiences and training to become an audio describer. Learn more at acb.org/adp/.

Have you encountered an accessible arts experience in Wisconsin that is not featured here? We would love to know about it. Call Katherine at (608) 237-8111 or email her at kcorbett@WCBlind.org.

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