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'Touch the Art' interactive display shines a spotlight on how the visually impaired create, enjoy art

A local gallery and some young artists are aiming to change the idea that art can't be touched.

AUSTIN, Texas — Imagine going into a museum and running your hands over the sculptures and paintings. Unfortunately, that's not allowed to happen.

When most people think of artwork, it's as something that's meant to be looked at but never touched. But a local gallery and some young artists are aiming to change that perspective.

Sixteen-year-old Khailou has spent weeks working on one special piece.

"I am working on a weaving scarf, a big one," Khailou said. "I just put the needle through each string ... What you do is go under and over."

Moment by moment, his creation begins to take form, turning into an intricate project he's already proud of.

"The only thing that's pretty hard is tying the yarn to the string," Khailou said.

Khailou is one of about two dozen students preparing to show their art to the public. While his work is soft and yielding, his friend, Jacob, has chosen a different path.

"They say your body needs a natural connection to the earth, and clay is kind of that form for me," Jacob said, showing his completed works – a volcano spewing red and orange fire and a tiny firepit. "I also used the brick technique. That took me about five weeks to get the base done."

Everyone has heard the saying, "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." For these young artists at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, their sight may be compromised, but their artistic vision is clear.

Mike has wanted to be an artist since he was a young boy. 

"A lot of colors don't register with my eyesight," he said. 

But for him, none of that matters.

"It's therapeutic to me," he said. "It actually helps when I'm not feeling at my 100% self and allows me to express myself."

For 18-year-old Kayne, his family, along with light and darkness, is what drives his creative streak.

"People without vision, if they want to touch it, they can feel all of the stuff that's on there," Kanye said.

The joy and the pain these students pour into their art is laid bare for the world to see and feel.

Being able to touch the art is an idea Natalie Earnhart, co-founder of the art space Almost Real Things, couldn't let go of. Now, that space is hosting "Touch The Art."

The interactive exhibit showcases work created by Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired students, along with professional local artists. It's all about the power of touch, the ability to comfort, communicate and enjoying the feelings of smooth and rough, soft and firm on the fingertips – allowing the public to become one with the art through physical contact.

"Everything that's hanging, everything that's displayed, you will be able to touch, and we'll have people encouraging you because I think that most people will actually be afraid to touch the art," Earnhart said. "So we'll go around and say, 'No, no, you can touch it.' And then also on top of that, let's talk about accessibility and how do people with visual impairment experience art, how do they make art?" 

On the VIP night of the exhibit, joy and anticipation filled the gallery space as visually impaired and blind students, friends and family got to experience the display. The rooms were filled as people moved from piece to piece, with dozens of hands eager to brush across the different textures and fabrics.

It's an exhibit these fingers had been waiting for and one that left these budding young artists so proud, knowing their artwork is about more than just sight – it's about showing their soul.

"Touch the Art" - An Interactive Art Exhibition, runs Saturday, May 13, from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.  All of the artwork is available for purchase.

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