UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) collaborated with Industries of the Blind (IOB) on the installation of a public art piece which tells the stories of the blind and low-visioned using sight, sound, and touch.
Founded in 1933, Industries of the Blind (IOB) is a not-for-profit manufacturing company employing people who are blind or visually impaired. IOB makes a range of high-quality products, including office products for use in the Federal Government and apparel for the United States Army and Marines.
The installation is located at the IOB building at the corner of Gate City Boulevard and Tate Street, one of the main entrances to the UNC Greensboro campus, and is the culmination of an innovative collaboration between the IOB and the CVPA’s School of Art and School of Music, as well as Interior Architecture, the Creative Writing MFA Program, and University Libraries.
We are currently in the second year of this three year project. Each year, a new iteration of the project is installed on the Industries of the Blind building.
Each year of the project, students in Professor Mariam Stephens’ Painting III class are paired with IOB employees for a series of conversations focused on ideas of independence, empowerment, and access. Based on those conversations, the students create paintings, which are then printed on 8’x10’ banners hung on the side of the IOB building.
Each year, Art History students with Assistant Professor Dr. Nicole Scalissi work with the painters to record verbal descriptions of the paintings and narratives surrounding their creation. During the first iteration of the project, School of Music students, under the direction of Professor Mark Engebretson, created original musical scores in response to the paintings and the exchanges. This year Creative Writing MFA students under the direction of Professor Xhenet Aliu created short prose and poetry pieces. To hear these stories and songs, participants can press a button on audio boxes under the banners — which were designed and constructed by Derek Toomes’ Interior Architecture students.
Not only can the paintings be viewed, they can also be experienced through touch by the blind and low-visioned. During the first iteration of the project, installed beneath each banner was a touchable bas-relief bronze sculpture created by students in Assistant Professor Dane Winker’s Sculpture course, using a three-dimensional computer modeling program and traditional metal casting methods. This year, students in Professor Nikki Blair’s ceramic course created ceramic relief sculptures inspired by the banners above.
Images, audio material, transcripts, and more stories will be publicly available online through a website designed by Assistant Professor Maggie Murphy and hosted by UNCG University Libraries.
We are in the second iteration of a three year project. Next year, come see a new group of artwork and sounds created by a new group of IOB employees and College of Visual and Performing Arts students.
“This is a project that has the potential for far-reaching impact not only to UNCG students and Industries of the Blind employees, but for the entire community. Creating public art that is experienced through sight, sound, and touch has allowed UNCG students to expand their artistic practice to be more accessible for the community. It is our hopes that this approach can inspire countless other artists in our community. The project will also act as a window into Industries of the Blind, allowing them to share their thoughts, feelings, and hopes for anyone who passes by the building.”
Richard Oliver, Director of Community Outreach at Industries of the Blind speaks to how this project has impacted their organization:
“Industries of the Blind is proud to collaborate with UNCG on such a tremendous project. These pieces of art capture the journeys of our associates and show the empowerment and sense of achievement that all Industries of the Blind associates strive for as they work towards their American Dream”
The project is partially funded by the UNCG Green Fund, which operates as a campus-based grant program that offers education, research, and professional development opportunities for students and employees by investing in campus infrastructure and programming to help meet the goals of the UNCG Climate Action Plan. Sean MacInnes, UNCG’s Sustainability Specialist remarks:
“The heart of UNCG’s mission is to make the world a better place by building thriving and vibrant communities. This project, with its synergistic connections to the environment, economics, aesthetics, and social equity, is an embodiment of that mission. This isn’t just a simple beautification or place-making project. It was a collaborative effort, it encourages interaction, and it elevates the connections we have with each other and with the places in which we live, work, and play. We’re excited to be a part of it and look forward to future iterations.”
YEAR TWO: MAY 2021 – MAY 2022
Year One: November 2020 – April 2021