Behind the Scenes at the DAM

OK to Touch in Yves Saint Laurent Tactile Tour

I had one of those "I work in a really cool place" moments a few weeks ago.

Lisa Steffen, our educator in charge of access programs, sent me an e-mail that her team had created a tactile tour of Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective for visitors who are visually impaired or blind. My interest was immediately piqued. How could she translate a fashion exhibition into something that could be experienced through other senses? I had to investigate and decided to invite some media to take in the experience as well. We all arrived at the museum, not sure what to expect.

We were soon blown away. Participants could visit four stations throughout the exhibition. Each stop had tactile objects that related to the theme of the exhibition area they were located in, such as the Gender Revolution or Scandal Collection sections. I touched a wool peacoat, a safari jacket, a pink satin bow. I smelled Opium—a fragrance that Yves Saint Laurent famously created in the seventies. I felt the outline of le smoking on a Sensational Black Board. It was incredible to feel the lifework of Yves Saint Laurent.

But how did the experience measure up for our participants? Buna Dahal was the first gal in line for the tour. We asked if we could follow along to see how she reacted to the show. She agreed and mentioned the importance of art in her life. If you want to see more of Buna's tour and hear her insights, check out CBS4's online story with reporter Greg Moody.

I caught up with Buna, a leadership strategist, after her tour and she shared some of her thoughts about the exhibition and tour:

Fashion is dependent on sight and memory. Yet the common notion that the blind are not interested in fashion is unfortunate and wrong. We (blind and visually impaired) grasp this element of beauty with different senses. Fortunately we have allies within the art community; it is remarkable for the Denver Art Museum to offer Yves Saint Laurent's artistic talent tactilely. As a blind art lover I was like a little kid in a candy store during the YSL Tactile Tour. Laying chiffon against my bare skin, touching decorative buttons on fabrics, learning about colors, feeling patterns, and exploring designs through my fingertips allowed me to appreciate YSL's creativity on a greater scale! Tactile models of his signature pieces were reprinted on the Sensational Black Board™ and were available in the tour –these models added sustenance to the hands-on experience by helping me to draw pictures in my brain. I will treasure these impeccable memories in my heart. For example, Yves Saint Laurent's logo, YSL. The second my right index finger traced a tactile model of his logo, and I figured it out "Y S L = Yves Saint Laurent." This hit the spot and fulfilled my hunger for knowledge as well as understanding. I saw—in a swift "ah-ha" moment—that all great designs create a legacy and this insight gave me a wonderful sense of involvement in the movement of fashion. Here the incredible tactile tour reached its full circle—I will cherish this moment forever.

This event is one example of the DAM's regular access programs that are available throughout the year for patrons with disabilities. Patrons can request information by calling 720-913-0130 or emailing access@denverartmuseum.org. Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective is on view through July 8.

Ashley Pritchard is communications and media relations manager at the Denver Art Museum. Ashley has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. She gets to peruse the galleries some mornings around 4 am for TV segments and loves having a little quiet time with the art.