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Connecting those with cognitive disabilities to art

Apr 03, 2024


Peggy Speir, Manager of Access Programs and Resources

Part of  these categories:: Education


A White woman stands next to an artwork and in front of a group of adults.

Peggy Speir with a Connect to Art adult group in the galleries in 2017.

In 2015 the Carter rolled out a new program for visitors with low/no vision called Close Encounters. When that program started gaining traction, something happened that no one predicted. The Museum began receiving phone calls, “Hi! I see you have a program for people with low/no vision. I don’t have any clients who are blind, but I do have a group with intellectual disabilities. Can we do the tour?” Thus, the Connect to Art program was created, becoming our most popular access program to date, with recent 240 participants in 2022 and 341 in 2023.

A White woman stands in a Carter gallery of photographs while talking to a group of seated adults.

Peggy Speir with a Connect to Art adult group in the galleries in 2020.

Connect to Art is an upon-request, in-gallery tour for adults or children with cognitive disabilities. Roughly 35 to 45 minutes long, each program focuses on a theme, like flowers or portraits. We spend time with two artworks on view at the Carter that fit the theme through conversation and different sensory tools such as raised-line drawings, 3D prints, scents, music, and more, then create a topic-inspired artwork that they can take home. Groups are capped at 15 people to make sure everyone can be heard and feels engaged. Adult groups are typically from local organizations that support adult group care, like Goodwill or Evergreen Services, and groups of children are usually from special-ed classes or autism centers.

These tours are often unpredictable because things like moods, time of year, or topics impact the engagement level. You never know what might excite the participants. On one visit the group might be quiet, during the next they are chatty about the specific theme because it is something that means a lot to them, or the conversation triggers a memory or meaningful tradition.

The conversations are less about art history (even though there is a good amount of it), and more about the visitors’ social and emotional connections to the content of the artworks or to the Museum. Conversations are often varied. Perhaps the topic is rainbows, but somehow the focus shifts to celebrating birthdays or what’s on the menu for Thanksgiving. Having a theme sets a nice foundation to refocus the conversation if need be.

A White woman talks to adults seated around a table making art.

Peggy Speir talks with adult program participants while they make art.

For these reasons, Connect to Art holds an extra special place in my heart. It’s inspiring because these are often repeat visitors, and they start to feel confident and comfortable at the Carter. They tell me what they remember from before or who they gave their artwork to, they look forward to a certain part of their visit, and they have a friend in me.

I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here. If you want to hear more, listen to me speak in-depth about this program on a November 2023 recording of GoodCast, Goodwill Central North Texas’ award-winning podcast. Want to schedule a Connect to Art? Email or call 817.989.5037.