The Art Reach Commitment to Cultural Access Award

We have done some amazing things with the touch tour program at the Penn museum. I started training last August. We made it into the AP, and on WHYY. And tonight Art Reach honored us by presenting us with the Commitment to Cultural Access award. The elegant event took place in the lower Egypt gallery, home of the sixth largest sphinx, fourth largest outside of Egypt. We gave mini touch tours and I gave a speech.

We have worked with Art Reach in the past. We have given them touch tours and I have gone to one of their described theater performances. They have done a lot of good things in the city to bring art to the disabled. When we heard they would present us with this award we felt thrilled. They wanted one assistant docent to speak, and I had a feeling it would fall to me, seeing as how I just spoke at TEDxPhiladelphia. With only a two day’s notice I prepared and practiced my speech. I once again used the Loci technique and it did not fail me.

They said we had to wear cocktail dress so I wore my suit, especially because I heard the director of the museum would attend. We gathered and made it to the museum despite the unusual traffic. They had done a nice job of transforming the space, complete with food, drink, and quiet live music. Trish’s husband Andy offered me a beer. At first I thought I would just have wine, but then I realized the appropriateness. I enjoyed drinking a beer surrounded by ancient Egyptian artifacts, though I doubt they had Philadelphia Pale Ale back then. I nibbled on some flatbread and vegetables then decided to make my way over to the Sphinx.

I had spent less time with this piece, since we did the other gallery this year. I did get some recent time to familiarize myself with it and it really helped. I enjoyed doing the mini touch tours. One woman asked about a particular symbol and put my hand on an Ankh, the symbol of eternal life, one of my favorites. “I am in heaven.” I gave a tour to some girls from the Please Touch museum. They enjoyed the incredible detail of the statue.

Suddenly things began. They first recognized STAMP, an organization which gives teens free access to twelve museums around the city. I thought they would take a break after that, but they went right into the next part. Julian, the director of the museum, said a few words. I felt excited when he said that the touch tour program would expand into ancient Rome and beyond. Even though I paid attention, I couldn’t resist touching the awesome sphinx which stood behind me, grounding my anticipation into its cool stone. Trish thanked the funders. And before I knew it I found myself at the podium.

I think my speech went well enough given I had just memorized it that afternoon. Everyone really enjoyed it. Once again some told me I should start doing standup comedy. You can hear it for yourself. The gallery had a magical echo.

“Do you want to take it?” asked Layla. I thought she would hand me my cane, but instead I felt a heavy cardboard box containing the award. I passed it to Trish, feeling rather like Frodo taking the crown from Gandalf and passing it to Aragorn. She opened the box and found a heavy glass disk, which ironically we all felt afraid to touch. It felt special.

I put all my energy into the speech, but we still had a few minutes. Claudia from Please Touch got me some wine. We excitedly talked about going to her museum, and she promised me a ride on their hand-carved carrousel. Some girls from Art Reach wanted a tour. One said she wanted me specifically so I felt glad to oblige her. “Your dream has come true.”

After the tour we turned around and found they had taken everything, even the glass of wine I had left on the podium. The time had come to leave. We all went our separate ways with a good feeling about the night and the future. Thank you Art Reach, the Penn museum, and everyone on the touch tour team!