Art has long been appreciated and to see a painting or sculpture is one thing but being able to touch it and hear it takes the appreciation of art to a whole other level.
The St. Augustine Art Association’s Tactile Orientation for Understanding Creativity and History St. Augustine community outreach initiative is taking it there by giving all learning abilities the opportunity to go from simply looking at a piece of artwork to experiencing it.
Those opportunities will be presented in the form of the Art Garden and Braille Trail, which offer enhanced accessibility to visual arts through Braille signage and audio guides in the community.
Elyse Brady, the association’s administrator, said, “They give access to the arts for the blind but they also raise awareness about the importance of making the visual arts accessible, so that’s sort of the big idea.”
Both projects stemmed from the annual Tactile Art Show which is an exhibit that features touchable art created by local artists in the community. The Tactile Art Show has been a source of field trips and learning experiences for the students of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind Braille specialist, Nancy Berger said, “The Art Garden and Braille Trail will give them (students) another avenue for learning.”
The Art Garden
The Art Garden will be an extension of the building that sits quietly on Marina Street right next to O.C. White’s Restaurant.
Right now, the front of the building needs to be painted, light fixtures need to be upgraded and the cement that borders the site is beginning to crumble.
The development of The Art Garden will include building restorations as well as beautifying it by adding coquina siding to the outside walls, updating the lighting fixtures and other additions.
“If we’re going to do this, why not do some beautification with it,” Brady said.
According to an STAAA brochure, there will be a total of four points for the Art Garden that are meant to almost every one of the senses.
1. Main Entrance and Sculpture Gardens — Two floating sculptures, on each side of the building, will stand out at the forefront of the building to be the first thing that visitors see.
“Those will become almost like these beacons, if you will, so from a distance you’ll be able to see these sculptures, which will immediately help you identify that this is an art institution. It’s a gallery. It’s an art space,” Brady said.
There will also be two wild date palm trees to frame the main axis of the garden to give an enjoyable fragrance for visitors.
2. Seating Area and Fountains — Two curved seating areas will be right near the entrance of the building allowing students and visitors to sit and chat for a while.
“Usually when kids come, we would stop and talk and they would kind of just stand around so now they can sit and we can discuss,” Brady said.
Behind the each of the benches, a wall fountain will flow have water flowing down to help set the atmosphere with the sound of falling water.
3. Central Courtyard Plaza — This area stands right outside of the front doors of the association building. The walls here will be clad in coquina to give visitors the ability to touch and feel the historic texture. Four large planters will be placed at the parameters of the entry way to represent the four corners of the globe.
4. Loggie Galleria and Old Town Landing — Coquina will wrap around the archways of the front entry to the building and a coquina-clad covered landing will be at the back of the building at the Charlette Street entrance to attract visitors.
Brady said the walls will allow students to touch and feel the history behind the material.
Together, these four components will allow for touching, hearing, smelling as well as seeing to really give a multisensory experience to all visitors.
Brady said, “There will be all these other elements that give you, kind of, this experience of being in this aesthetic space and learning about our history.”
Past the limits of the STAAA building are five statues in various areas from Grenada Street through Marine Street that highlight significant notable people and groups in St. Augustine history.
Pedro Menendez, Henry Flagler, Father Pedro Camps and the Minorcans, footsoldiers and Juan Ponce de Leon are the statues that currently stand.
The Braille Trail will highlight these statues for FSDB students and community members alike by adding Braille plaques. The plaques will include information about the statue in Braille as well as tactile graphics, which are simplified drawings or graphic of the sculpture.
Kathy Michaelson, a Braille specialist at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, said the students love going every year to touch the touchable art and be able to go to an art museum and touch where museums usually tell you don’t touch anything.
As of last week, all of the plaques have been installed except for the one that will be near the Henry Flagler statue.
Funding the projects
The total cost is $200,000. This amount was split in half and the first $100,000 is almost completely raised.
Through a matching grant provided by Bill Mayer and Diane Bradley, a sum from the Community Foundation and donations, STAAA is now just a short ways away from the first $100,000 and announced they were close at the Focus 450 reception earlier this month.
“It’s important that people understand that this has a very community-wide importance to it,” Brady said.
Now the art association must raise the final $100,000 in order to have complete funding for the projects.