Partnership Brings Accessible Art to Oklahoma City


The Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA) opened today the accessible portion of their new exhibition Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support provided by Art Bridges. The ceremony included key members of the Oklahoma City community, applauding the efforts of OKCMOA and NewView Oklahoma, who partnered to develop and execute best practices for offering a visual arts experience for the low-vision and blind community.

“The idea came about naturally,” said Dr. Rosie May, OKCMOA director of curatorial affairs and audience engagement. “My mother suffers from glaucoma and was a client of NewView Oklahoma. I reached out to learn how I could bring the arts to this community.” 

May’s passion for accessibility was a catalyst for seeking funding and pursuing this project. Together the two organizations decided the exhibition should include navigation aids and accessibility features that can be accessed utilizing a smartphone. Audio files are available for the intro panel, two didactics, and extended descriptions for each piece of artwork. Additionally, four paintings were professionally manufactured into touchable pieces of art. These pieces allow visitors to experience representations of the exhibition using their sense of touch.

“Working with the Museum has been a very rewarding experience,” said Jack McMahan, NewView Oklahoma’s chief innovations and accessible technology officer. “The Museum’s energetic staff, under the guidance of Dr. May, became deeply engaged in accessibility and concepts of Universal Design to make this exhibit enjoyable for everyone.”

With more than half a million people in Oklahoma living with disabilities, it is imperative that experiences like this be made available. The OKCMOA team hopes that by offering a one-of-a-kind experience, the exhibition will draw many to Oklahoma City.

“In Oklahoma City, we understand the importance of accessibility for residents and visitors of all abilities,” said Visit Oklahoma City President Zac Craig. “We appreciate visionary partners like OKCMOA for creating touchable and auditory features that bring art to life and make it possible for more people to enjoy the Fighters for Freedom exhibit. Art experiences evoke so many lasting impressions and we are excited about the inclusion of expanded sensory tools for all ages to enjoy.”

NewView Oklahoma and OKCMOA have a rich history of working together to create accessible experiences. The Museum’s team has gone through blind sensitivity training and worked with NewView to create accessible programming opportunities for years, but up until now, those experiences have been unique to specific classes or one-off experiences. May’s vision for the Fighters for Freedom exhibition was to achieve complete accessibility for the entire duration of the exhibition.

The exhibition features 28 paintings by William H. Johnson (1901-1970) from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, drawing entirely from their collection of more than 1,000 works by the artist. The series, painted in the mid-1940s, is a tribute to Black activists, scientists, teachers, performers, and heads of state who worked to bring freedom and peace to the world and helped shape the American story.

The series provides a clear narrative style, featuring many recognizable historical figures that draw visitors in to look deeper. It will be of special interest to visitors who are interested in American history and world events of the 1940s.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art and NewView Oklahoma are steadfast in their commitment to making art accessible to all, and the Fighters for Freedom exhibition is a shining example of this dedication.