Big Arts Day Out 2013

Report by Garry Stinchcombe with photos taken on the day by Deb Lewis

Image: the group seated in the Fairfax Studio.

On 31st May, nineteen students from the Support Skills Program participated in the Big Art’s Day Out excursion to the city. Staff from the SVRC and the Guide Dogs Victoria team had planned a very busy, educational and fun schedule. Some students chose to travel into the program via public Transport. Seven students met at 7:15am at the SVRC while two students met up with Simon in Geelong while another three students met with Gayle and Emily to travel in from Footscray. Some students elected to meet at the Art Centre in St Kilda Rd. We all met up at 8:45 and … everyone was there on time!

Image: the group walking towards the Art Gallery.

The Opera

Our first activity involved the group visiting the Fairfax Studio where we had booked in to see the opera “Puss in Boots”. It was the first time most of the students had attended an opera. Danijela who is now
a veteran of children’s operas as she attended the “Magic Flute” and “Cinderella” in the last 18 months was able to tell us what would be involved. We sat in the front two rows and we were allowed to enter
the theatre 30 minutes before the other audience members. Melissa and Natalie from Opera Victoria had arranged for the students to touch lots of the costumes and props. We got to feel the “large” hat that Puss in Boots wears. Also his costume – his tail was particularly long! We also felt the crown and several other items. The radio controlled car which was dressed as a rat was very interesting!

Image: the group chatting.

Just prior to the performance commencing the students were given an AudioDescription unit. This had an earpiece and a box with a radio receiver inside. The box could be put in your pocket or just left on your lap. Once you slipped the earpiece over one ear you could then listen to the audio description while still listening to the singing and music. The audio describer was located in a booth at the very back of the theatre where he could see what was taking place on stage and then describe it to the people with the Audio Description headsets. The audio provided details about the layout of the stage, the position of the sets, costumes being worn and generally told you which performer was entering or exiting the stage. The audio describer also told us what instruments were in the 12-piece orchestra.

Image: two students discussing an image on an iPad.

As the opera was sung in Spanish, we certainly relied on the audio description to let us know what was happening! The only person among our group who understood Spanish was Sebastian who told Alicia he understood every word they sang!

Image: Visiting Teacher Emily uses her iPhone as a magnifier with a student.

It was great to be sitting near the front of the theatre as those students with low vision could see the performers and the blind students could hear where they were on the stage. Everyone seemed to enjoy the opera and the performers were all given huge applause at the end of the performance – which ended up well with the ogre being turned into a rat and the miller’s son marrying the princess!

Image: enlarged image on iPhone.

We were then invited to a special morning tea with some of the cast members and patrons of Opera Victoria. We also got to meet Tony Fox who had provided the audio description. After some lovely biscuits and drinks we went off to eat our lunch in the lovely Melbourne sunshine. We ended up having a
walk and play in the large gardens opposite the Art’s Centre. A previously unseen animal was found in one of the trees, the Huey Bear was found wedged in the fork of one of the trees! I think this same bear was seen sleeping on the train going home!

The Gallery

After lunch the students divided into their Support Skills groups. Michael Donnelly took one group off to the National Gallery of Victoria to meet up with Jane Strickland and the two Jills who were assisting. For only the second time in the Art Gallery’s history students were allowed to touch particular sculptures. After washing their hands thoroughly the students were shown a very big stone sculpture of a head, the Alfred Felton Memorial by Charles Murray-White. They were also shown the tools which are used to create a sculpture.

Image: student touching a sculpture.

The group then went on a walk through some of the corridors and spaces including the Great Hall. The students lay on the floor where they could get a better view of the beautiful stain glass ceiling by Leonard French. Staff described the ceiling to those who could not see it and Michael shared the tactile pictures he had prepared. Students with low vision, Thien and Jeremy, took photos of the ceiling with their new (funded through More Support for Students with Disabilities National Partnership). Using their iPads allowed the students pinch and zoom their photographs to enlarge the image for a more detailed look.

Image: two students toughing a sculpture.

The group then walked through the foyer area where they looked and listened to an installation of a large pool with water slowly circulating and porcelain bowls floating on top bumping into each other. These made for some interesting chiming sounds. It was called Clinamen and was created by a contemporary French artist. We were not able to touch these bowls but the sound they made was very relaxing.

Image: student exploring tactual graphics.

We then went up to Level 2 where we could look at and touch four different sculptures including a Half Figure by Henry Moore, Sunflower by Jacob Epstein, and Crowning Buds II by Jean Arp. Some were made of stone while another was cast in bronze. When touching these sculptures we had to use a “feather touch”. One of these sculptures was over 100 years old. Again Michael and the braille production team had prepared tactile drawings of each of these sculptures so we could contrast the 3-D with the 2-D. The time absolutely flew and after just over an hour the groups had to change over.

Image: students looking at carving tools.

Orientation and Mobility: The Train

Darren from Guide Dogs Victoria had arranged with Metro for the students to have a “close up” look and touch of a suburban train. Metro had changed their timetable and set aside a train for the 2 hours!

Image: student explores tactual graphic of the Clinamen (bowls floating on water).

Darren along with Simon, Laura, Paula and Alicia walked the students across Princess Bridge and then through Flinders Street Station to platform 13 where Mark from Metro along with the train driver met us. Each group then spent an hour exploring the train. Students practiced getting on and off the train, counting the seats, checking out the length and layout of the carriages, the location of the doors, how they opened, the emergency buttons. And then! All the students had the opportunity to go into the driver’s compartment where they looked at the controls, spoke on the speakers and blew the horn! Mark also answered lots of questions the students asked about the trains, how they work and how the service operates.

At 3:30pm students were picked up from the Arts Centre by parents while others scampered off to catch trains back to Geelong, Footscray and Nunawading.

Image: students look at cast for bronze sculpture.

It was a fabulous day with the students having really valuable opportunities to participate in activities which they might not otherwise have experienced. A big thank you to Deb Lewis for arranging the Opera Victoria activity with Melissa Harris; to Michael Donnelly and Jane Strickland and the NGV staff for their efforts in making the sculptures accessible and for all Michael’s work making up the tactile books and resources to support this activity.

Image: student in the Great Hall explores a tactual image of the ceiling.

To Darren Moyle and the O&M Team from GDV thanks for their invaluable support throughout the day. Students were encouraged to move independently as often as possible. A special thanks to Darren for organizing with Metro the tour of the train. To the copious number of other staff from the SVRC and the two VA O&Ms Gail and Gayle who accompanied students into the program – a big thank you!

And one final thank you, to the families who supported the day by bringing their children into the city or dropping them off early so they could participate. A big thank you from all of us!

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