History of Art and Architecture

Looking Beyond: Art & Engagement for Blind Artists & Audiences


Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Looking Beyond: Art & Engagement for Blind Artists & Audiences

Kirsten Ervin from Creative Citizen Studios and Suzanne Gibson, owner of River's Edge Studio will present strategies for blind and visually impaired people to meaningfully engage with art, both as art makers and art audiences. Suzanne will share her own experience as a legally blind painter and gallery owner, exploring how vision loss has reframed both her own creative process and her relationship to art in general. Kirsten will reflect upon recent art experiences with blind and visually impaired participants, and how tactile methods and verbal description can provide a rich aesthetic framework for understanding and appreciating art content. Both will engage the audience with the following questions: Is art a purely visual construct? Do people who are blind or visually impaired have the same urge to create as sighted people? What is the importance of cultural contributions from people who experience a world beyond sight?


Suzanne Gibson received her training in commercial art from Bucks County Technical School. After 20 years of homeschooling children, teaching art and running a decorative arts business, Suzanne began focusing her full attention on painting. In 2009, Suzanne and her husband opened RIVER'S EDGE STUDIO, an art gallery and studio in New Brighton, PA. Suzanne knew she had Stargardt’s Disease, a degenerative eye disorder causing progressive vision loss.  Soon after opening her gallery, her Stargardt's disease took a turn for the worse, making painting increasingly difficult. After seeing a painting exhibit by totally blind artist John Bramblitt at the Akron Art Museum, Suzanne was encouraged to find a new way to paint. She slowly realized God had given her a gift to see things differently, producing art she never would have previously. Suzanne’s vision has decreased significantly since the opening of her studio. She continues to adjust with each new challenge with the aid of assistive technology and a determination to keep creating.

Kirsten Ervin, M.Ed., is co-founder of Creative Citizens Studios, a Pittsburgh company that builds bridges between the arts and disability communities. CCS has provided art and accessibility training to several cultural organizations, including The Mattress Factory, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and the Union Project. Through CCS, Kirsten teaches organizations both how to create both accessible exhibitions for patrons with disabilities and how to create accessible studios for artists with disabilities. Kirsten has worked extensively with the blind and visually impaired community in Pittsburgh for over 20 years, most recently in conceiving Touch Art, a series of tactile art workshops at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in the fall of 2013. Kirsten's passion is in teaching CCS' weekly art classes for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Union Project, and in creating opportunities for these artists to collaborate and connect with Pittsburgh's wider arts community.