Sunday, May 27, 2007

Audio and Tactile Art is being taught to the visually impaired!

The idea for the project originated with Charter's art teacher Loren Abbate, who has worked with eight seniors and one junior since November of 2006 to create the exhibit.

The exhibit includes thick thread hanging overhead and a bubble-wrapped floor that students walk across before feeling their way along a multi-dimensional wall consisting of an array of fabrics, wires, plastics, and even scented oils. In addition to giving students at St. Joseph's a chance to experience art in a creative fashion, the charter school students also learned about the different degrees of blindness, the physiological and psychological sources of it, and the challenges visually impaired individuals face in society.

"As a service-learning school, our goal was to reach out to others in our community and give the experience of art to a population that's challenged," said Abbate. "At the same time, I think my students became more appreciative of the abilities they possess in the process." She said the materials used in the exhibit were collected through student-led field trips around Hoboken.

Students from both schools react

The general consensus among the approximately 50 St. Joseph students who took part in the interactive exhibit was enjoyment and gratitude, although one or two of the younger students cried while feeling through the display. "It was great; I had a lot of fun!" said an ecstatic Tamilah Alexander, a 19-year-old from Irvington who enjoyed the bubble-wrapped floor so much that she stomped her way across it twice.

"I was jumping and popping on them; it sounded like popcorn, but you couldn't eat it." Another student who had a good time walking through the exhibit was an 18-year-old from East Orange named Antoine Israel Love. "They did a good job. It would be nice if more schools did things like this," said Antoine. There was some visual art on display, for those with partial vision. Abbate said that black and white works were shown because the partially blind can better appreciate the contrast they create, whereas colorful displays generally appear like shades of gray.

The teens from the charter school also appeared to have had a rewarding time. "Helping other children experience art where otherwise they might not made me feel good and at the same time sad to see them," said 18-year-old Bianca Cabrera of the charter school. One of Cabrera's peers, 16-year-old Simone Longoria, a self-proclaimed artist who draws, sings, and writes her own music, shared the overall sentiment. "It felt really good to see [the students] taking part and going through the exhibit," she said.

"I felt like I was doing something good for someone else." Seventeen-year-old Jamil Torres added, "I enjoyed it very much, I got to see a lot of how the children feel. There are a lot of people who see art at face value. Because [the visually impaired students] can't see, their version of art goes deeper, focusing more on how it actually feels rather than just how it looks."

Hoboken Charter School

The Hoboken Charter School is one of two charter schools in town, having opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 8, 1998 after being created by parents who wanted an alternative to the city's other public schools. Although the school receives most of its funding through the Hoboken Board of Education from state and local tax dollars, it does not report to the city's Board of Education. Instead, it has its own Board of Trustees who handle the school's curriculum and administrative issues.

The school, which shares its current space at the Demarest Building with high school kids enrolled in the Hoboken Public School's Alternative Program, does not charge tuition, but rather holds fundraisers. The proceeds are used to finance an array of school services for students, who are selected through a random lottery held before the start of every school year. There are 249 students currently enrolled in Hoboken Charter, with 191 in the middle school and 58 in the high school.

Michael Mullins can be reached at


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