Talking Statues

20 April 2022

Talking Statues makes public art accessible

They do this, among other things, by providing training and advice to art providers such as museums, or by organizing adapted city walks. The foundation was co-founded by Elvera van Leeuwen, who used to work in the printing industry, but soon noticed that she didn't get much energy from it. She would rather do something that she could help others with. After research, she discovered that there were still few facilities to make art fun and accessible for people with a sensory impairment and she decided to do something with it. We spoke to Elvera about a new project by Oren en Ogen shortage: the Image in Sound project.

What is Talking Statues?

Image in Sound is a project that focuses on art in public space, to make it accessible to people with a visual impairment. The Netherlands is incredibly rich in art. I'm not just talking about museums that you have to pay for, but also just about statues that can be seen on the street. Most people just walk by without really looking at it, but when you look at it it can amaze, inspire, touch you… this does not apply to people who are very visually impaired or blind. With Image in Sound we want to give them that opportunity.

How does it work?

You can participate by downloading the IZI Travel app. This app is used worldwide by, for example, museums and tour organizers. We have used audio descriptions of the images, which are linked to the corresponding location via GPS. In the app you can see where the images are with Google Maps. We have labeled them with the code 'BIG' for recognisability. When you turn on the app and you get close to these images, a voice tells you what to see.

How did Talking Statues come about?

We started in The Hague. In the center of our political capital you can find a very nice sculpture gallery. I thought it would be fun to do something with that, so we contacted the Municipality of The Hague to apply for a grant to make these and other images in the city accessible. You might not think so when you see the chaotic, busy center of The Hague in this way, but the municipality is very concerned with accessibility. After the curator of these images had agreed and we had received the subsidy, we could get started. That was also quite strenuous. We needed people to describe the images, which of course has to be done carefully to convey a good image of the art. Fortunately, scribit pro helped us provide the synthetic voice that speaks the descriptions so that all descriptions have the same voice and so don't distract different voices. We have also extensively tested the tour with our target group. Most of them really liked it and said they would benefit from it. Yet it is sometimes difficult for people who are completely blind to get a good picture of the art with only audio. The images can of course be touched, but many of these images are so large that you cannot feel them in their entirety.

What does the future of Talking Statues look like?

Everyone can join the tour in Rotterdam and The Hague for free. We really want to expand to other cities and towns. We would like to be everywhere where art can be admired publicly. People can also help us with this. Suppose you have a beautiful statue in your front yard or next to your house and you don't mind people coming near and touching it, then you can offer that statue to us with a description. Working together to make art in public space accessible to everyone, that is what we at the Oren en Ogen kleine Foundation stand for.