Keywords: Assistive technologies; Museum of the arts; Children with intellectual disabilities; Inclusion.
Inclusion is part of the social responsibility of a modern museum as a public institution, regardless of the collection it holds. Inclusion in art museums involves the implementation of activities aimed at improving the accessibility of their collections for certain socially sensitive groups, in a physical, sensory and cognitive manner, thus promoting the diversification of audiences and the democratization of museum practice.
Socially sensitive groups for which a museum can implement outreach programs and provide specific content include visitors with disabilities, the elderly, people with dementia, low and no-income visitors, migrants, communities LGBTQI +, etc. The Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina provided children with intellectual disabilities with a form of technological assistance, the ARTsee app, to provide alternative interpretations of art and thus yet another reason to visit the museum.
The need for some form of technical assistance in an art museum
By listening carefully to the ever-changing needs of the local community of the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have realized that the cultural and artistic content designed to meet the specific educational, emotional, communication, social and information needs of children autistic people in Sarajevo was missing. .
An alternative educational pilot program based on the collection, ‘Blue Artism’, was therefore implemented at the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018 and 2019, establishing an appropriate methodology for children aged 10 to 14 years with disabilities. of the autism spectrum. The results of research conducted in 2018 and 2019 during the implementation of the program revealed that participants perceive visual motifs in the form of works of art symbolically, and often reproduce what they know in instead of what they see. We took these results as a basis to develop a digital didactic application for an alternative interpretation to help children with intellectual disabilities access art.
The visual identity of the ARTsee application. © Amra Mahmutović
The development of the application was financially supported by the Goethe Regional Institute and the Academy of Cultural Management as part of the project. Culture and the arts in transition: the digital age. The team working on the app consisted of computer experts, defectologists, a designer and the National Gallery museum educator.
An accessible application design
The creative vision of the ARTsee app project was to represent the selected works of art from the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the form of animation, sound and text. The selection of works of art to appear was based on their universal emotional and / or narrative value and their potential for interpretation in the three aforementioned forms.
Based on these criteria, seven works of art in the gallery’s permanent exhibition Oprostorena intima (Intimities of Space) were selected. The designer used the digital reproductions of these works to create animations that place the works in a particular context (i.e. the passage of the seasons) in order to make the interpretation easier and accessible for children. For example, Great treetops by Safet Zec shows a large treetop that comes alive in the application over the seasons. A separate sound segment evokes the movement of the wind through treetops and leaves, through rain, snow or through a hot summer. A third distinct segment of textual content describes animation at three levels of information.
Symbols leading to content. © Amra Mahmutović
The application has been developed in two versions: a home version and an on-site version. The in-house version offers the target group online digital content based on works of art from the collection of the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Parents and guardians download the app for free and use it with their children by connecting the visual and audio segments and reading textual interpretations with or for them.
An on-site version of the app has been created to give this group additional reasons to visit the museum. During the test of the application in March 2020, before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the museum organized additional activities for the participants (pupils of the special education school of Mjedenica, Sarajevo) where they used the application as part of the permanent exhibition Oprostorena intima. On this occasion, the museum provided participants with scannable tablets and QR codes near the captions of the painting. Each time the young visitor scans the QR code next to the painting, the app assigns him a virtual star. In this way, children with intellectual disabilities are motivated to explore the exhibition space further, in a fun way.
The activity ended with a question-and-answer session led by the museum educator, on the content and meaning of these works. The museum educator was assisted by teachers and students in special education.
Young visitors with autism interacting with painting via the ARTsee app as part of the permanent exhibition Oprostorena intima at the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina. © Amra Mahmutović
Can the ARTsee app act as a mediator between the participants and the original works of art? How do participants navigate the tablet and how well do they understand how the app works? Do certain formal or narrative content, colors or particular patterns of the works of art affect the participant’s psychological perception of the visual field? To explore these questions, students of psychology and pedagogy at the Faculty of Philosophy and Rehabilitation at the University of Sarajevo developed questionnaires aimed at groups of children with various forms of developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, this research has been interrupted by school closures in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to Covid-19, but will continue when the health situation allows visitors to be welcomed more freely in indoor spaces, such as museums. The research will be analyzed by the gallery museum educator with the help of a special education mentor from the Department of Pedagogy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo.
As the pandemic continues, we continue to develop content that users, as well as their parents and guardians can access from their homes. We have digitally adapted two other collections from our museum: paintings by Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler and selected paintings from the museum’s new permanent exhibition. Galerija entuzijazma (Gallery of enthusiasm). Our hope is that other art museums (at local, regional and international level) will join the ARTsee online platform by tailoring their exhibitions to the needs of children and young people with intellectual disabilities, thereby increasing the accessibility of the collections of museums around the world.
Learn more about the Culture and arts in transition: the digital age project, which supported the application:
The ARTsee app can be downloaded free of charge: