Location: 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri. It’s three blocks northeast of the Country Club Plaza on Emanuel Cleaver II. Look for the giant shuttlecocks/birdies–you can’t miss it. If you’re on Emanuel Cleaver II, the museum will be on your left.
Cost: Free, although there is a fee to enter some special exhibitions. Parking in the underground parking garage is $5.
Web site: http://www.nelson-atkins.org/
You may not think that an art museum would be a good place to visit for the blind or visually impaired; it might not even cross your mind to check it out. You would be wrong: the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has made sure that its collection is accessible to everyone. Although the tours start at about the third-grade age, the Nelson offers special tours for the blind and visually impaired. These tours are led by a docent, and the participants wear gloves and actually get to touch the art. That’s right. They can touch the art. If your child is in third grade or higher, drop the Nelson a line to find out more; for information on the school tours (which require you to be a part of an organization/school with programs for the visually impaired), click here.
Even if you can’t go on the school tour because your child isn’t quite old enough, the Nelson still has a lot to offer. The hallways are wide and smooth stone, which makes them easy to navigate regardless of how good your vision is. Most rooms have few obstacles other than a bench or two, so there aren’t hazards to run into and trip over. The architecture of the museum itself is amazing: the large brass doors to the Nelson-Atkins Building are intricately molded with different pictures on most, if not all, of the doors; the archways around the entrance doors are carved stone; there are large pillars in many of the halls, allowing you to touch smooth marble or roughly-carved stone; there are large stone art pieces in the Rozelle Court that have signs saying not to set things on them, but no signs telling you touching is forbidden (I’m referring to large pieces on the floor; I cannot speak to the pieces inset in the walls).
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is, frankly, enormous. As it states on their Web site,
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is internationally recognized for its outstanding collection of more than 33,500 objects. From ancient times to modern day, this encyclopedic museum is one of the best in the country, offering visitors the opportunity to explore civilization through the eyes of painters, sculptors, craftsmen, and many other artists.
In addition to their permanent collection, they also host short-term exhibitions. This coming spring, for instance, they will be reuniting Monet’s Waterlilies triptych for the first time in 30 years! (Each of the paintings in the triptych is owned by a separate museum.) Peanut is a fan of Waterlilies–if you look at the photo at right, you can get an idea of exactly how BIG this painting is. It has a wall all to itself in the Impressionist area of the museum.
I do recommend the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, with the paintings by Monet and Gaugin, among others. The paintings are often large, like Waterlilies, or feature bright colors, like Gaugin’s work, and usually catch Peanut’s attention. The modern art in the Bloch Building is also good: it’s generally enormous, and, while not always comprehensible, it does tend to be brightly colored. Peanut is a fan of the big-and-bright school of art.
One of my favorite discoveries on our recent visit is the Cloister. This is an actual 14th-century French cloister that has been moved and reconstructed off of Rozelle Court in the museum. It’s gorgeous–and it’s touchable. You can feel the ancient stonework, and you can walk around it to get a feel for the dimensions of the space, regardless of how well you can see.
There isn’t braille to speak of at the Nelson, but they do offer an iPod audio tour for the low low cost of free. As long as you have someone with you to tell which numbers to punch in for the particular artwork, you can hear all about it. The audio tour is available to anyone, regardless of how good their eyesight may be.