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Spektrum - behind the scenes of the project

Spektrum - behind the scenes of the project

The National Museum in Krakow is hosting an international educational project devoted to adapting the institution to the needs of people with autism spectrum. I asked our staff for information on this: Anna Berkowicz, Iwona Parzyńska, Beata Cichy and Katarzyna Szczygieł - participants and co-ordinators of the project.

Each of them described it with a few words.
- We are creating the Spectrum Project in a partnership consortium of institutions from Europe, such consulting firms in the world of cultural institutions. Institutions and organisations from Belgium, Great Britain, Spain and Italy are helping us to adapt the museum to the needs of people with special sensory needs, including those on the autism spectrum - says Ania Berkowicz, assistant professor in the Education Department and co-ordinator of the Spectrum Project. - Our partners have the knowledge, we have the experience and the space. And of course, we have our wonderful viewers that we want to do this project for.

An important moment for the project was a study visit of the MNK partners, which took place at the end of September. - We could show them the place we wanted to change, prepare it, and thanks to that find better solutions and choose the ones we want to implement - recalls Ania.

Ania Berkowicz and Kasia Szczygieł work at the MNK Education Department, coordinating the museum's activities aimed at audiences with different needs. Beata Cichy and Iwona Parzyńska, in turn, form a team dedicated, among other things, to adapting the buildings of the MNK so that they can be used without difficulty by people with disabilities.

- Our project team is a team for special tasks. (...) Each of us is responsible for certain implementations. In the spectrum project, we gather experience that we want to pass on. We decided to create a database of knowledge, good practices and solutions that we can recommend and share with other cultural institutions in Poland. This is our goal: for more cultural institutions in Poland to be adapted to the needs of people with autism spectrum - concludes Ania.
Adapting the museum to the needs of highly sensitive people is a complex process in which individual solutions concern not only the appropriate preparation of exhibition halls but the operation of the entire institution. In order not to get lost in it, we develop a set of rules and recommendations together with our partners. We are creating a kind of guide that can be used by museum professionals to carefully review the various stages of their work. The checklist provides tips to help you carefully explore the space and the workings of the various galleries. We have a lot to test: The National Museum in Krakow has as many as twelve different branches, most of them in historic, listed buildings.

We also observe our own work. - Each person encountered in the museum influences how a viewer with the autism spectrum will feel in the institution - says Beata Cichy, a project participant editing this document together with her partners.

Checklist users will benefit from the collection of information gathered during the work. They will learn how to prepare and equip a quiet room, plan quiet hours. - We learn to adapt some parts of the exhibition to specific sensory needs, adds Beata. This part of the recommendations and their implementation is one of the topics she is addressing.
- Quiet hours is a project that has been on our minds for a long time - begins Iwona Parzyńska from the Museum's Accessibility Section, co-ordinating the implementation. Every first Wednesday of the month is a day on which all branches of the MNK reduce the intensity of decor and arrangement. - We try not to let the extra stimuli bother viewers who are more sensitive. Those who simply enjoy the silence more are welcome to visit the museum without multimedia. Where necessary, we dim the lights. Places are considered - in corridors and other spaces - where it is also worth reducing the light intensity a little.

- It is also the moment when the exhibition's custodians can focus more on the needs of the audience and also take a break from additional stimuli - says Iwona. - It's a pleasure for us too. The first information about quiet hours was very popular. We heard a lot of kind words from people who need it, and those who are just rooting for this kind of thing in museums. Because museums should be accessible to all and prepared for any situation.
Want to visit a museum, but prefer to prepare well for it? A convenience we offer visitors to the MNK for people on the autism spectrum is a “pre-guide” - a document you can download from our website to plan your visit in advance. Its editor is Katarzyna Szczygieł from the MNK Education Department: - As part of the project, we are preparing a guide to the exhibition at the Princes Czartoryski Palace aimed specifically at people with the autism spectrum. The publication contains photographs of the exhibition halls and basic information about the exposition. Selected works are described in more detail under the heading “Explore the work.” The guide has been consulted with people with the autism spectrum and translated into English. As a PDF document, it has been posted as a downloadable version on the MNK website. We hope that it will be a good form of preparation for a visit to the museum, to which we cordially invite you - adds Kasia.
Kasia wasn't kidding. The checklist that Beata Cichy spoke about was tested in the Princes Czartoryski Palace. This newly renovated museum, opening in 2019, is fortunate because many audience-friendly features could have been planned into the museum from the start. The Czartoryski Museum is also the first branch of the MNK to offer a special quiet zone. A few days after our last conversation, Iwona let us know that there was a dedicated space in the Palace where you could catch your breath, use a sensory basket and a weighted quilt if needed. “Feel free to relax on the pouffe” and “These are items that help you de-stress,” the posted information encourages.  

The Spectrum Project is still ongoing. My female colleagues stay in constant contact with their partners: FARO. Vlaams steunpunt voor cultureel erfgoed vzw, Center for Museum Education of the Roma Tre University, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia and Outside in Pathways.

In the last months of 2021, we were able to meet in Belgium. Together with our partners, we visited museums where projects for people with special needs are developed. Thanks to workshops and discussions we could see “how they do it” and decide which of the solutions can be implemented in Poland.

Our next plans are to create a guide for educators outlining the best techniques for working with people on the autism spectrum, and we are also preparing an online training for all individuals and institutions interested in opening up to people with the spectrum. We are already looking forward to inviting everyone to enjoy the fruits of our collaboration. We want our work to be able to inspire other institutions and in this way contribute to greater accessibility for people with different needs.

You can read more about the adaptation of our museum's branches for visitors here.
Agata Jabłońska (Marketing Department, MNK)
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