Accessible and inclusive museums in the Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees

Picture from the Terracotta – Museo de la Bisbal d’Empordà. A young woman contemplates from a balcony a brick wall with a great number of letters attached. Some words in Catalan can be read:  “sordesa” (deafness) or “laberint” (labyrinth). Image by Kris Ubach.

Every May 18th since 1977 International Museum Day is celebrated. It’s an initiative launched by ICOM, the International Council of Museums, an organisation committed to the conservation, continuation and communication of the world’s heritage, present and future.  This edition holds the theme: “Museums for equality: Diversity and inclusion”. Even though indoor activities have been postponed until autumn due to the health emergency caused by Covid-19, the museums have celebrated the event online. They’ve organised virtual tours, contests, and all kinds of activities in order to bring the museums to our homes. In fact, since last March 14th, when the state of alarm came into effect, the museums have shown great creativity in their effort to face the lockdown. Now, while we have entered the phase 1 of deescalation, museums are allowed to open their doors and welcome small groups of visitors. 

As we gradually approach the so called “new normal” by phases, museums rise to the challenge of reopening by implementing restrictions, limited capacity and strict security and hygienic measures. These are tough times that pose challenges to our future. However, museums as institutions have an undisputable social role, they tell us who we are and where we come from, and they can now help us understand where we are going to. 

To show our support to museums during this reopening period, we have prepared a tour through a selection of the museums of the Girona province. The tour highlights the accessibility measures in each museum, to encourage you to go and visit them whenever possible, and discover the rich heritage of our territory

The Esteva Pharmacy, Olot School and religious imagery 

In our first stop, we visit the Museu Municipal de Llívia, in the Cerdanya, a strategic centre of cultural tourism at the Pyrenees. The history of the town of Llívia and its Pharmacy, the Esteva Pharmacy, one of the oldest and more widely known in Europe, are the backbone of the exhibition. Its pieces take us back to the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century apothecaries. The access to the museum is adapted to people with reduced mobility. The lift incorporates Braille numbers in its buttons, and the whole of the exhibition is located on the same floor level. 

Olot’s Museu de la Garrotxa is located on the third floor of the historical building El Hospicio. It can be accessed by a lift, which incorporates an accessible cabin, visual display of floor numbers and an operating panel in Braille as well as tactile buttons. The permanent collection covers 19th and 20th century art and landscape paintings, and is situated at the same floor. It provides a system of signs and pictograms for directional information.

The collection revolves around Olot’s Landscape School, a way of understanding art leaded by brothers Joaquim and Marian Vayreda and by Josep Berga I Boix. The museum also houses one of the finest collections of Catalan sculpture and painting, and a remarkable collection of modernist posters. Room 7 exhibits the iconic La Càrrega (The Charge), by the painter Ramon Casas, which offers audio-description in Catalan, Spanish, English and French. The activities organised by the museum also offer sign language interpretation in Catalan. The museum is also working on an easy-to-read guide that will include all the texts on display as well as extended information on a selection of works.

At the Museo de la Garrotxa, a woman observes the painting La Càrrega (The Charge), by Ramon Casas. On the right side of this large painting a civil guard on horseback runs over a demonstrator. On the left and in the background, a crowd runs away in terror. Image by Marina Geli and Pilar Planagumà.
At the Museo de la Garrotxa, a woman observes the painting La Càrrega (The Charge), by Ramon Casas. On the right side of this large painting a civil guard on horseback runs over a demonstrator. On the left and in the background, a crowd runs away in terror. Image by Marina Geli and Pilar Planagumà.

The Museu dels Sants, in Olot also includes accessibility measures. This is an active museum that’s based around the historical workshop El Arte Cristiano and is dedicated to showing the craft manufacture of religious imagery. A platform stair lift at the main entrance, the lift and an obstacle-free space allow people in wheelchairs or with reduced mobility to visit the four floors of this museum.  Some representative pieces that show the process of making religious imagery are accessible to the touch. And the informative video on the ground floor is subtitled in Catalan, Spanish, English and French, as well as having an interpreter in Catalan, Spanish and international sign language.

Natural history and art you can touch 

Next stop in our tour is the Darder Museum in Banyoles, which is dedicated to natural history. This is one of the oldest museums in the Girona region. The building offers adaptions for people with reduced mobility, such as wheelchair ramps. The lift, with capacity for 8 people gives access to the five floors. Water is the main theme of the museum, which is dedicated to the lake of Banyoles and the lake basin environment.

Definitely a must-see, the Museu d’Art de Girona is set in the Old Episcopal Palace. With a catalogue of 13,753 pieces, it is one of the richest museums in Catalonia. The exhibition shows the art of the Girona region through its different ages and styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Realism, Modernism and Noucentisme. There are also monographic rooms dedicated to pottery, glass and liturgical art. Regarding accessibility measures, the museum offers a tactile tour of the permanent exhibition, with a selection of pieces from all ages, styles and featuring different materials. Besides, one of the rooms incorporates tactile replica exhibits for blind people wishing to experience with Romanesque sculpture. 

At the Museu d'Art de Girona, a Romanesque beam from the Benedictine monastery of Sant Miquel de Cruïlles is on display, decorated with a procession of clergymen. An information panel with text and Braille information stands below the piece. Image by Rafael Bosch.
At the Museu d’Art de Girona, a Romanesque beam from the Benedictine monastery of Sant Miquel de Cruïlles is on display, decorated with a procession of clergymen. An information panel with text and Braille information stands below the piece. Image by Rafael Bosch. 

Inclusive ceramics and easy reading at the Farinera

In the Costa Brava, we visit the Terracotta, Museu de la Bisbal d’Empordà, set in an old ceramics factory. The museum is accessible to people with reduced mobility, and has a collection of more than 10,000 pieces, including ceramic objects, as well as tools that were used for the production of pottery. The webpage offers a view of the permanent exhibition as well as a selection of previous temporary exhibitions.  Among them, we highlight the exhibit by the blind ceramist Natàlia Gual   (AKA CovaDangles) and the FangTEA’t. Autismo y arcilla exhibition, by users of the ceramic workshop managed by the Autisme Mas Casadevall foundation, that declares that “art and culture are inclusive, theybring society together and put it in question, they elevate us and, in short, they define us as individually and collectively. (…) We hope that diversity and the multiplicity of skills become the everlasting thing”. 

We continue to the Ecomuseu Farinera de Castelló d’Empúries, where the town’s flour heritage is preserved and disseminated, an activity that has been carried out in this town since medieval times. The permanent exhibition is distributed over 3 floors and is accessible to wheelchair users. In addition, it has launched an accessibility plan with the aim of becoming a closer, more inclusive, accessible and social museum, and is preparing texts with easy reading. The first of these is about the cylinder mills.

Pictograms for all

We finish this tour in the Museu del Joguet de Figueres, with a collection of more than 23,000 toys. The building is free of architectural barriers. In order to facilitate the access to its activities to everybody, the museum uses pictograms to indicate the accessibility features of the activities. This way, the visitor can find out whether the activity includes a manipulation workshop, a relaxed session, whether it is suitable for people with reduced mobility, accessible to people with mental disabilities or with vision impairment or low vision. This initiative aims to transform the museum into a cultural space for everyone.

Accessibility Plan at the museum 

There are several initiatives aimed at increasing accessibility at museums. Some examples are the Apropa Cultura programme, an inclusive network that offers cultural activities at accessible prices for people at risk of social exclusion or with disabilities, or the MUSA application, a diagnostic tool for finding out the degree of accessibility of museums from the architectural, communication and service point of view, developed by the Xarxa Territorial de Museus de les comarques de Girona. Making museums accessible and inclusive is also one of the objectives of Museums 2030. Catalan Museums Plan.