Arts Major Caps Undergraduate Career with Interactive Exhibit

Emily O’Shea has always been drawn to interactive art. Her goal after graduation in May is to work in a community art program making art more accessible to the public.

When she began researching her capstone project for her arts administration major, she started thinking about what type of event or show she wanted to curate. 

“It was so open ended I could take it in any direction. I started to think about what I like and knew I wanted to have an interactive component,” she said. “It’s an easy way to get people really engaged with the art.”

As she got further into her research, she discovered tactile art and began to focus her project in that direction. 

“I wasn’t aware of it or seeking it out, but I started thinking about the reach art can have if it is more accessible,” Emily said. 

In researching other exhibits locally and internationally, she found out about “Somatosensory: Relating to the Senses,” a tactile art exhibit presented by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors. She attended the show in the fall to get some ideas for her exhibit and was connected with Duncan MacDiarmid, the president of the Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors, who was an invaluable resource in helping Emily develop her prospectus and connecting her with artists for the show.

One of the seven artists featured was junior art therapy major Jake Carnahan-Curcio. Jake’s mom has a visual impairment, so making tactile art is something that resonates strongly with him. Two of the assignments he made in the Clay Studio course at Seton Hill were selected for the exhibit. 

“My mother was born with nystagmus, and has been legally blind her whole life. Being a visual artist, I think about how she will engage with my works as it will be different from folks with clear vision,” Jake said. “After being part of this show, I would like to make more art that is tactile and engaging.” 

Junior art therapy major Jake Carnahan-Curcio's love of insects and nature comes through in his two pieces: Venom Hunger, left, and Chicken of The Woods (The Mushroom Vase).

Emily faced some challenges when putting together the exhibit, but was ultimately proud of the end result. The 10 works were all able to be touched and interacted with by visitors. She worked with Seton Hill’s Office of Disability Services to create English and Braille labels with descriptions of the art for each work and signage instructing guests on how they could interact with the pieces.

“Touching artwork seems easy, but can be very uncomfortable at first,” she said. “So many people came up to me on opening night and asked if they were really allowed to touch the art. After their initial hesitation, you could see the curiosity and then joy as they interacted with the pieces in a way that is not typical in most museums or exhibits.”

“Including accommodations in art doesn’t limit the experience for the general public, and it in fact enhances the experience for everyone,” she said. “I’m passionate about making art and museums more accessible spaces for the public and bringing more people into the world of art.”