July 26, 2017

Art Without Barriers

Cultural art curator Dominic Antignano takes a break on a bench crafted by renowned Sag Harbor artist/designer Nico Yektai. Kitty Merrill. (click for larger version)
Peconic Landing's cultural art curator Dominic Antignano has passion – for making art accessible to the residents at the campus set on 144 lush acres in Greenport, for making art accessible to the public, to people no matter their ability, for making strategic alliances with other artists, local schools, national organizations, you name it.

His enthusiasm for the work at the retirement community and the breadth of its cultural offerings appears boundless.

"Our main goal is to create an environment for members here, a place that's nurturing and secure. Our arts and leisure program has to be as diverse as the people who live here, while being passionately committed to outreach to the community … We offer dozens of programs on a monthly basis. The spiritual, physical, and mental are combined subtly in all our programs," he explained.

On the day The Independent visited, Antignano offered a personal tour of the Art Without Barriers sculpture garden. He got the idea for an accessible exhibit during a visit to Florida. At a Dali show, he noted descriptive audio for the visually impaired, and decided to bring the concept to the North Fork's only sculpture garden. In 2010, the first pieces arrived.

Teaming with Matko Tomicic from East Hampton's LongHouse Reserve, Antignano learned how to site sculpture in a landscape.

"We did build it and they did come," the curator said. After several successful exhibitions, artists began calling to ask if they could show their work at Peconic Landing. Shows with themes grew organically over the years as new ideas and new opportunities arose.

At one point, Antignano considered the need for benches where visitors and residents could rest while touring the site. He put out a call and "celebrated artists from all over the world answered." Internationally-acclaimed sculptors and local artists worked with area school children to craft the seating.

The exhibition Art Without Barriers is specifically geared toward the visually impaired; its tagline is "What you hear is what you see." Working with the New York Federation of the Blind, the New York City Library for the Blind, the Mattituck Lions Club and others, the Peconic Landing's resident art committee developed a podcast that "makes the visual verbal." Descriptive audio allows people to "see" the sculptures. Braille, large print catalogues, and docent-led tactile tours enhance accessibility. "We've got it kind of covered," Antignano allowed. "We're able to reach everybody we can."

The local Lions Club funded MP3 players that visitors can use to hear detailed descriptions of the pieces in the sculpture garden, after they are greeted by a quick introduction at solar powered kiosk Antignano invented.

Curator and art historian Dr. Charles Riley offers the descriptions of many of the artworks, plus bios of their creators. He bonded with the artists, Antignano said, and developed descriptions so vivid "You can close your eyes and visualize each piece."

In some cases the artists themselves provide insight. The podcast about the sculpture garden has garnered over 2000 downloads from all over the world. "Somebody in China or Ireland is listening to the description of art at Peconic Landing," Antignano noted, a little awe in his voice.

The sound of seagulls at the beach signal it's time to move to the next piece.

Nine sculptures by artists like Jack Howard-Potter, Ginés Serrán-Pagán, Jack Dowd, Arden Scott, and Mike Hansel set in among memorial cherry trees on a vast lawn comprise the core of the exhibit. Visitors can find another seven pieces along paths around the main garden, which abuts two ponds. Rainbow Totem, a kinetic piece by Steven Zaluski introduces dramatic, shiny color to the natural greens alongside another marsh and pond on the grounds.

Ed and Joan Porco were out for a walk during The Independent's tour. Every week, "like clockwork," said Antignano, they offer tours of the garden to visitors and residents, encouraging the latter to get out and opening a new world to them. Both said leading the tours for blind people is "the most gratifying experience."

Antignano agreed, but there's more.

He told the story of a day a woman who was both blind and deaf arrived with a sign interpreter. The aide translated the audio descriptions into the visitor's hand. "She perked up and said, 'You've given me wings.'… To me, that's why we do these kinds of things. Making art accessible is essential."

The sculpture garden is open to the public, for free, from 10 AM to 4 PM through October. Visit www.peconiclanding.com to learn about other public events in the community.

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