Montreal Museum of Fine Arts program benefits visually impaired

The MMFA is now allowing the general public to touch selected sculptures as part of a program already offered once a month to visually-impaired visitors. Jeanette Kelly went on a tour to see what the experience is like.

Alan Dean, a West Island seniors, enjoys program geared toward visually-impaired visitors

Alan Dean with the sculpture he says "almost brought tears to my eyes", a newborn in bronze by American sculptor Kiki Smith. (Jeanette Kelly/CBC )

Alan Dean is a retired Royal Air Force pilot who lost his sight after a stroke almost 20 years ago.

Dean is NLP, which means he has no light perception. He wears a protective pair of sunglasses with an extra edge on them to protect his eyes from dust particles.

Arts reporter, Jeanette Kelly, takes a touching tour of sculptures at the MMFA with visually-impaired West Island resident, Alan Dean. 9:22

As a younger man he visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts regularly. 

But since losing his sight, he hadn't been back. 

“What’s the use," says Dean. "I won’t see anything.”

So imagine his pleasure when he was invited to take part in a program at the museum for the visually impaired.

It’s a special guided tour of sculptures in the collection that visitors on the tour are allowed to touch, provided of course they are wearing protective white cotton gloves.

"To be honest with you I didn't expect truthfully that I would gain too much. Now I am overjoyed. I really am. All of a sudden now this part of my life has been reopened," said Dean after the tour with guide Patrick Fitzgerald. 

Dean is president of the West Island branch of the Montreal Association of the Blind.

He plans to encourage the members of his association to try visiting the museum again. 

The guided tours for visually impaired have been part of the MMFA’s outreach program for several years.  

Now the museum is opening up the tours to sighted visitors who wish to experience touching sculptures.

The tours take place on the third Tuesday of every month.

About the Author

Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.