Sensory Saturdays is a new Museum initiative designed to offer early access to the galleries for visitors with sensory needs. Museum educator Margie Makowski worked closely with school and family education manager Nicole Mangold to develop the program, which is offered on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and includes a sensory-friendly environment and an artmaking activity.

Lights are dimmed in a variety of spaces including Art Ways.

Makowski is a PA K-12 Certified art educator, and called on her past experience working at ArtWorks Gallery & Studio. One of the artists she worked with there is Tommy Hennigan of the nonprofit Tommy’s Voice. “The artists that I worked with there really, really, really inspired me and kind of changed the way I started to look at and understand the world around us,” shared Makowski.

Here she describes the significance of the program, and shared some of the steps she took to turn this vision into reality:

 

Q: What makes Sensory Saturdays significant?

MM: I think people experience the world in different ways, and it’s important to offer options for visiting and learning and making art accessible; options that could help someone feel comfortable coming into the Museum.

 

Q: Who can benefit from Sensory Saturdays?

MM: Sensory Saturday is geared toward folks who have challenges or different sensory needs, but it really can benefit anyone who might want to experience the Museum as a calming space . I think the idea of taking a step back and feeling comfortable in a relaxed environment can contribute to mindfulness and wellness and to just fully being yourself.

 

Q: How did you develop this program?

MM: Prior to working at the Museum, I worked as an art instructor for adults and children with special needs, and in an art gallery and studio that was primarily for artists with neurodiverse needs. I reached out to some families that I used to work closely with and some artists that are on the autism spectrum and asked, “What would you want to see and experience on a trip to the Museum?” I got a lot of great feedback. Waiting in line and not knowing what to expect in a new place can be challenging, so we make the check-in process quick and I welcome every person who visits during Sensory Saturday to answer questions and make suggestions about how to explore and enjoy the galleries. Light levels and volume levels on exhibition iPads are turned down, and there is a dedicated space that our Sensory Saturday visitors can stop in to take a break and have some quiet time.

 

Upon arrival, each visitor to the program will receive their own Sensory Kit. The kits include ten fidgets, stim toys, gallery activities, and resources for visitors to use while at the Museum and at home! Inspired by works of art from the Museum’s permanent collection, some of these unique items were handcrafted by our Museum educators or 3D printed using sustainable materials in our Art Ways Interactive Family Gallery.

“Sensory Saturdays and Art Can are just the first steps in our journey to make the Allentown Art Museum accessible for visitors of all ages and abilities. These programs are integral to our dedication to making,”  declares Abigail Simmons, Director of Education and Public Engagement.

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To learn more about Sensory Saturdays, email Margie Makowski at mmakowski@allentownartmuseum.org.