Breaking Point: Accessibility and the Cummer Museum

Today we bring you Calder Yates’s essay from our sister publication, Art Practical; originally published in Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship. Yates retraces the history of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, and its journey towards accessibility and inclusivity under former museum director Hope McMath. Calder states “In Jacksonville, with all of the residual bigotry that comes with its legacy as a city in the South, the creation of a museum that was accessible and relevant to communities of color was risky from a fundraising perspective.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

As Hope McMath, director of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, packed up her office a couple of weeks ago—her last day—she came across her old performance evaluations buried in a closet. The evaluations, dating back to 1994, described her first project at the museum: the Very Special Arts (VSA) Festival, an annual event that would increase access to art for individuals with disabilities. Jean Hall Dodd, the director of education at the time, had assigned McMath the task of making the small museum’s staid collection of paintings and sculptures relevant to people with disabilities.

“She said, ‘Here’s a cool project. Figure it out,’” McMath recalled.

McMath was twenty-three at the time, working two days a week as a museum educator. Now forty-five and cleaning out her spacious corner office at the museum, she reread her evaluations. They described her efforts to answer a question that would follow her for the twenty-two years that she worked at the museum, ascending to director of education, then to deputy director of the museum, and finally to director. McMath, with cropped gray hair and a faint Southern accent, said: “We were trying to figure out what it would mean for a museum to be fully accessible, as one of its core values. What would that mean?”

Read the full article here.

 

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