The Vlog Project
Whitney Vlogs are original short videos featuring Deaf museum educators communicating in American Sign Language. Currently, there are limited opportunities available for Deaf audiences to access museums and art, especially through the use of their preferred mode of communication—American Sign Language (ASL). Although it is a highly expressive visual language, ASL lacks a robust vocabulary for describing art materials, techniques, and movements, and specialized terms must be spelled out. Through the Whitney’s successful and oversubscribed ASL program Whitney Signs (exhibition tours led by a Deaf museum educator), we identified a critical need for expanding our offerings and contributing to the cultural vitality of this community. In February 2011, we introduced the Vlog Project, with the goal of increasing cultural opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing audiences.
In the Vlogs, the host presenters exude a charisma that transcends the language through which they communicate. Topics range from features on individual artists and exhibitions; interviews and performances; and fresh interpretations of iconic works in the Whitney’s collection. Complex ideas about art that would be difficult to express in any language are made accessible in concise and often humorous ways. Open captioning provides additional access and allows different audiences to experience their commentary and learn about the art discussed in the videos.
In Off The Wall Part II: Seven Works by Trisha Brown¸ artist and educator Christine S. Kim and stand-upcomedian Andrew Fisher discuss a performance by Elizabeth Streb, which was originally conceived by the choreographer Trisha Brown. In the performance, Streb performs a stunning feat, walking down the side of the Whitney Museum, while a mesmerized crowd watches from below. Kim and Fisher discuss the blurring of the lines between dance and performance art in the 1970s.
In Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum, Kim and Fisher discuss the unique architectural character of the Whitney’s iconic brutalist home on Madison Avenue. The presenters intertwine historical anecdotes about the architect and the building’s early years with personal commentary and reflection, teasing out complex perspectives on the once controversial building that has become a beloved landmark in New York City.
In Thomas Hart Benton: The Lord is My Shepherd, 1926, educator Lauren Ridloff discusses Benton’s piece in the Whitney’s collection, and encourages us to take a second look at a familiar work of art. The painting, which depicts a deaf couple at home in Martha’s Vineyard, is filled with new meaning as a result of Ridloff’s unique interpretations.
While there are a number of museums that have used video to capture gallery commentary in ASL, the Vlogs are unique in that they involve Deaf individuals in every stage of production, from scripting original commentary to directing and editing each video. The Vlogs combine sophisticated interpretation, high definition cinematography, and creative, professional editing. In addition, rather than being presented in the museum’s access services section of the website, the videos are “mainstreamed” on whitney.org. They appear in Watch and Listen, the museum’s comprehensive repository for archival audio and video resources online, and a new installment in the series is released each month. As a result, these videos have attracted a much broader audience than just the Deaf community—they are now among the Museum’s most popular original video content. Within the first year of the project launch, the videos received nearly 15,000 views without any direct marketing or advertising budget. and were honored with an international Commendation for accessible digital media from the Jodi Mattes Trust.
We hope that these videos can serve as a model for other institutions to create original interpretive content that meets the learning needs of multiple audiences and engages people with disabilities in a collaborative creative process, highlighting the unique perspectives they bring to the cultural field.
Producer: Danielle Linzer, Manager of Access and Community Programs
Commentary: Christine S. Kim, Andrew Fisher, Lauren Ridloff
Interpreter: Denise Kahler, CI & CT, SC:L
Art Director/Editor: Jeremy Lee Sanchez
Videographer: Pierce Jackson
Associate Producer: Gene McHugh, Interpretation Fellow