An estimated 15% of the world population is neurodiverse. Therefore, it’s important for museums to welcome neurodivergent individuals and provide learning opportunities tailored to their needs. Neurodiverse people include individuals on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, and people with dyslexia and other learning differences. The Cleveland Clinic defines “neurodivergent” as “a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically.”
Tilly Woodward, GCMoA Curator of Academic and Community Outreach, has been working with neurodiverse groups from Grinnell Opportunity Center, Station Clubhouse, and Central Iowa Residential Services, Inc. (CIRSI) for over a decade, and she has formed strong relationships with the people in these programs. Woodward engages participants in discussions about museum exhibitions and then guides them in an art making activity related to the art in the museum.
Woodward describes the program by saying, “With each visit, we spend time together with the art, looking, thinking, talking, and making. It’s always a delight to hear what is of meaning, to understand art in new ways, to see the pleasure people take in creative self-expression…GCMoA recently added visits with Newton’s Progress Industries’ Dayhab program, and it was a delight to see an old friend who had come years earlier help people coming to the Museum for the first time feel comfortable. Art serves all people, and it’s an honor to facilitate that connection.”
Founded in 1974, CIRSI’s philosophy is that every person is entitled to dignity and respect in their life, regardless of their disability. Beige Hawn, CIRSI Coordinator, discusses the impact of the program on participants, “Each individual who joins Tilly’s program is absolutely elated to be working with such an amazing instructor in the halls of the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Community inclusivity is such a vital part of living and Tilly offers this and more by recruiting student volunteers and offering other event settings which provide connections that refuse to fade while the art they’ve made is displayed lovingly in their homes and homes of their loved ones. They relay each moment that they’ve shared with enthusiastic joy once returning from working with whatever medium Tilly has cooked up. Tilly’s kindness, passion for art and impeccable style make her the center piece of everyone’s ideal future excursions. We are so glad to be continuing with this program and look forward to many more memories.”
Creativity, imagination, and innovation are all traits of neurodiversity. Accessible art museum programs such as the one at GCMoA which are tailored for neurodiverse individuals can open important opportunities for creative expression and make museums more inclusive.
Information for visitors
The Grinnell College Museum of Art is located in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St., Grinnell. Information about the Museum is available at: grinnell.edu/museum or by calling 641-269-4660. The Museum is open to the public and always free. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 am to 6 pm, Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 pm. Visitors may use the west (Park Street facing) or north (campus facing) doors to the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Minors under age 18 need to be accompanied by an adult. The Museum will close for the holidays at 1 pm on Thursday, December 21, and reopen on Tuesday, January 1.
Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. Information about parking and accessibility is available on the college’s website: grinnell.edu. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations at 641-269-3235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tilly Woodward, Curator of Academic and Community Outreach, works with visitors from Central Iowa Residential Services, Inc, as they look at art in the Grinnell College Museum of Art and work on their own self-portraits Dec. 13, 2023. (Photos by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)