The Guggenheim Is Proving That Museums Aren’t Simply to Be Seen

Susana Montes, a New Yorker whose 13-year-old Ian Aquino has autism, told me that Ian enjoyed taking part in Zoom programs with a friend who had moved to London. And she added that while her son also liked on-site offerings – prior to the pandemic, the quarterly Guggenheim would have a variety of activities and a designated quiet space for all events – he appreciated the structure and familiarity of the online programming.

“All students and participants really know what to expect,” said Ms. Montes. “You come prepared.”

In April, a visiting artist with autism, Myasia Dowdell, discussed her work and answered questions during a Guggenheim for All program I watched. I noticed that some of the teenagers attending decided to stay away from the camera and use the zoom chat feature to enter their comments.

“The technology really balances out,” said Ms. Adsit. “Suddenly we find ourselves in this very democratic space where everyone feels at home and participates through a preferred modality.”

She now offers the programs on a monthly basis and breaks them down by age based on feedback from participants: one session for children ages 5 to 12 and one for teenagers. The museum also recently started training for a young college graduate with autism. The current trainee and a teenage intern who is also on the spectrum are working on a Guggenheim virtual art exhibition for all participants.

As the museum approaches a full reopening, it is also increasing access for all art lovers. In June, the Guggenheim Teens internship program will have twice as many participants – at least 30. And on May 1, the Guggenheim launched a program that I’m looking forward to: Saturday in the house, a monthly day with free entry for everyone.

“The last year has helped us redefine what we think of a museum,” said Ms. Levenson. Instead of treating visitors as viewers, regardless of whether they are disabled or not, “we put them in the role of producing content with us.”

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