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portrait of a person with medium brown skin, short gray or shiny hair, eyeglasses, and wearing a coat and tie Reimagining InSights

Photo Caption: The award-winning artwork titled, “The Best Drawing I Ever Made,” by Drey Chitwood, a student at the Washington State School for the Blind, will be a featured artwork at the 2020 InSights Art Awards Celebration.  The artwork is a lovingly observed portrait of a person with medium brown skin, short gray or shiny hair, eyeglasses, and wearing a coat and tie. 

 

The 2020 InSights Art Program, APH’s art competition and exhibition for artists who are blind or visually impaired, will look a little different this year.

Usually, InSights installs an exhibit of 90 artworks in the Kentucky Suite of the Hyatt, as part of the events of APH’s Annual Meeting.  A local jury of artists and art professionals select the art from hundreds of submissions, shipped to APH from around the world, processed, and stored. The winning artwork is photographed and prepared for exhibition, with the creation of print and braille labels, as well as matting for selected pieces.  On the final night of Annual Meeting, APH hosts an Awards Banquet, a festive and energetic affair, that highlights the wonderful art, and artists who break boundaries with every creation.  Award-winning artists and their families are invited to attend the celebration.  While their artwork is presented to the audience and described, the artist receives a ribbon, and the applause of the audience.

Covid-19 changed all this. Everything about the InSights program needed to be reimagined, in a time when nothing is certain.  I was assured of one thing, however: the show must go on.  There was no doubt about it, only how it could be done.

Even though the due date for art submissions was extended by several weeks, we still experienced missing or lost shipments, some from prominent art programs, which needed to be resolved.  In the end, we received 202 submissions — a remarkable number, despite the many limitations that artists and schools encountered, with closed facilities and limited availability at post offices and shipping services.

In July, we held the judging of the artwork.  To prevent our jurors from entering the building and spending an extended amount of time there, and with each other, we hosted a virtual judging, which required taking a snapshot of each artwork, with an anonymous label for each piece, and loading them to a Flickr account according to category.  The judges were provided a voting sheet, and all selections were sent back and tallied.  Because the judging was virtual, we had the opportunity to add an artist-juror who did not live in the Louisville Metro area.  She was, for the first time in the contest’s history, able to review the artwork from the West Coast.

After the winning artists were informed about their prize, the real challenge presented itself.  How do you transform a physical exhibit space, and an awards banquet into a virtual affair?  For the exhibit, with limited time and resources, InSights decided to set up a temporary website at insights-art.org, to showcase the 2020 artwork, with full description of each artwork included in the main text. That website will open on October 7, just as the 2020 Annual Meeting begins — the traditional opening of the Annual InSights Exhibit during years when we have a gallery space.

Usually, the artwork installed at Annual Meeting includes the 30 to 40 award winners, and additional, selected artworks up to 90 pieces.  This year, without the physical limits of a gallery space, and to honor all those artists and art programs who, against all odds, shipped art to APH for consideration, we will include all submitted artwork in this year’s online exhibition, which, I hope, inspires all artists to submit a piece for consideration.  Unfortunately, the availability of artwork sales at this year’s online exhibit is still pending.  The challenge is finding an accessible, and fair way to do that well.

I will miss the winning artists and their families at an awards dinner here in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Banquet always inspires guests and artists alike. However, in its place, we will host a pre-recorded awards celebration on Friday, October 9, 2020, at 5:00 PM, Eastern Time.  An event of this complexity, with at least 2 hosts and a technical team, with over two dozen artworks, each requiring multiple screen changes, announcements and descriptions, is an engraved invitation for technical catastrophe during a live event.  I chose instead to pre-record the awards, for a more seamless, and controlled event.  While this year’s awards program is as well-crafted as we can dream, still, the 2020 Awards is being produced by APH staff who care, if not by video professionals.

For those who have registered for APH’s Annual Meeting, which is free to attend this year, the InSights Art Awards Celebration will be broadcast through Zoom.  For those who will not attend Annual Meeting, links to the broadcast of the awards will be posted on insights-art.org, just before Annual Meeting begins on October 7.  We hope you will be able to join us, for the culmination of the unique 2020 InSights season.

As the hectic days leading up to APH’s 2020 Annual Meeting comes closer, we wish to thank all the folks who have helped to make this year’s website and awards available to all.  I also wish to thank the APH staff — especially our magnificent production staff — who, through all of this, continue the essential work of creating accessible materials for all with vision loss.

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