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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 16, 2008
Stalowa Wola
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Museum Breaks Down Barriers
January 16, 2008 By M.H.    
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The Regional Museum in Stalowa Wola is the first in Poland to cater for the disabled. The building has stair-climbing wheelchairs and elevators, and there are no access barriers. There is a special sculpture gallery for the visually impaired and guides proficient in sign language for the hearing impaired. The museum runs educational programs, issues special publications and catalogues, and hosts exhibitions of disabled artists.

Many of the exhibits can be touched or even held. Students can literally get a feel for stone hatchets used thousands of years ago and try on prehistoric adornments. They can run their hands over bowls made by local potters a few decades ago or spread out a finely woven fishnet. Visitors can try on a heavy World War II helmet and test the lightness of a coconut fiber flask.

'Accessible museum' has been the watchword from the outset. Here, you are a welcome guest so you won't find any museum slippers or "don't touch" and "silence" signs.

Gallery by Touch is an ongoing open-air exhibition of 12 sculptures created specially for the visually impaired two years ago.

"The sculptures are the work of Polish and Ukrainian artists," says project initiator Lucyna Mizera. "This year, the museum is implementing Accessible Museum, Poland's first integrated program for disabled people. This has been made possible by an EU grant of around zl.300,000 under the INTERREG Poland-Belarus-Ukraine Neighborhood Program," she adds. "By removing architectural barriers and impediments, we let people with visual, aural or learning impairments experience art hands on. This also has therapeutic value and fulfills their need for social acceptance."

There are more plans afoot for the Gallery by Touch. Polish and Ukrainian experts are planning to hold open-air sculpting workshops which ought to add another ten exhibits. Brochures are being printed in Polish, Ukrainian, English and in Braille.

"And to top it all off, the museum is hosting the Annual Disabled Artists Review in June, which will give artists the chance to stage exhibitions here," says Mizera. "This will be our second review after the international 'Self-Portrait' competition we hosted. We want to emphasize that art puts up no artificial barriers against either artists or the viewing public."

The project is being jointly organized with the Center of Polish Sculpture in Orońsk, the Polish Association of the Blind, the Lviv Academy of Fine Arts and the Lviv History Museum.
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