Whitney Museum of American Art Video Blog

Whitney Museum of American Art Video Blog

2011 International Award Commendation

Exemplary qualities

The project brings together several exemplary qualities:

Sustainability and growth by adding one video with American Sign Language every month to its Blog. Such a commitment remains an exception today, yet this is a condition for Deaf people to enjoy choice and opportunity.

Learning and change. When the museum found out that free and easy-to-use sub-titling software (such as ‘universal sub-titles’) is available, it decided to begin to sub-title all its videos, widening access for people with a hearing loss. Few museums take this approach, which is inclusive of hard of hearing people, who represent the largest group of people with a disability.

The blogs are ‘mainstreamed’ into the Museum Video Blog collections, creating the beginnings of a truly inclusive resource. Multi-media platforms allow for customization and audio would be a fitting addition to build the inclusiveness of this rare collection.

This go-ahead work in progress has experimental character. It takes risks. It explores new ways of communicating complex cultural meanings to a community deprived of inclusive cultural opportunities. Evaluation findings of its innovative aspects will be of interest to everyone working on similar projects and to the sector as a whole.

The Project

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).

The goal of these vlogs is to increase cultural opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing audiences and create a communications laboratory to expand the ASL vocabulary of contemporary art terms. Although it is a highly visual language, making full use of expression, gesture, and space, ASL lacks a robust vocabulary for describing art materials, techniques, and movements, and specialized terms must be spelled out.

Whitney Video Blogs (Vlogs) are original short videos featuring Deaf museum educators communicating in American Sign Language, focusing on topics in contemporary art or exhibitions on view at the Museum.

All videos are sub-titled. They are included in the museum’s online video collection – and some are among the most popular videos watches by all web visitors.

Complex ideas about art that would be difficult to express in any language are made accessible in concise and often humorous ways. Images of the educators are intercut with high definition footage of artworks on display and live action installations, shot in the Whitney galleries. Open captioning provides additional access and allows different audiences to experience their commentary and learn about the art discussed in the videos.

Vlogs are unique in that they combine sophisticated interpretation, high definition cinematography, and creative, professional editing. As a result, these videos have attracted a much broader audience than just the Deaf community

Project Budget $30,150

The Video Blog project was launched at the ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival in February 2011. It is on going—to date, ten short films have been released online, with a new feature introduced every month.

Other activities

The Whitney Museum is the defining museum of 20th and 21st Century American art. It collects, exhibits, preserves, studies, and interprets art of the US and fosters the work of living artists at critical moments in their careers. The Whitney also educates a diverse public through direct interaction with artists, often before their work has achieved general acceptance. The collection currently holds 19,000 works by more than 2,900 artists.

The Museum’s Education Department extends the institution’s resources to over 50,000 people each year with programs that include free school tours, long-term school partnerships, teen programs and events, daily exhibition tours, tours in American Sign Language both with and without voice interpretation, verbal description and touch tours for people who are blind and partially sighted, and hands-on art-making activities for all audiences.
Large print audio transcripts and exhibition labels are available free of charge in the museum and the Whitney’s website also offers transcripts and captions for audio and video content.

The Whitney seeks to give every visitor an equal opportunity to experience the art on display.


People with disabilities were involved as essential participants in every stage of this project, and the outcome is a true reflection of their experiences, perspectives, and needs. It was a collaborative process involving staff and consultants who are Deaf and hearing from multiple departments.

The concept for the Video Blog project was developed in consultation and collaboration with members of the Whitney education staff who are Deaf, based on a desire to extend the reach of programming for these audiences.

The Museum employs freelance educators who have extensive background in working with students with a range of disabilities, including sensory impairments, learning, emotional, and behaviour disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and more.

Each video blog is produced by an integrated team consisting of a director/editor and Whitney educators who are Deaf, working with a cinematographer and interpretive media and education specialists who are hearing. The concept and content of each vlog are developed collaboratively with individuals who are Deaf and rounds of feedback are given throughout the editing and captioning process.

When new features like captioning or transcripts are introduced, Museum staff review these changes with user-advisors, who may offer feedback and suggestions for how to revise features to make them more accessible and user-friendly.

‘This makes the Whitney’s digital presence accessible to both Deaf and Hearing audiences, a feat we do not often see. Their digital presence surpasses what is considered accessible; it becomes a true connection between viewers and the arts. As a Deaf person, I applaud the work of the Whitney and look forward to other art institutions and developers of digital media following its lead.’
Shira Grabelsky

“That video made me feel intelligent” said a user.

The future

The Video Blog project has prompted significant changes geared towards making all of the Museum’s resources more accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

The popularity of the ASL Video Blogs increased awareness of other online media assets that were not accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Since initiating this project, the Whitney conducted an inventory of all online audio and video assets and has begun the work of introducing closed captioning capabilities for videos on its website and 3rd party media hosting sites. Transcripts are now being produced and uploaded for all archival audio files available online.

The Project has been advised by the National Centre for Accessible Media, Boston, the website of which includes free sub-titling software.

Training programs in the areas of Security and Visitor Services have been expanded to offer free courses in Deaf culture, etiquette, and basic ASL for front-of-house staff, taught by an educator who is Deaf.

Launched recently, the project will be evaluated during 2012.