A series of art installations around downtown Owen Sound this month are designed to bring awareness about those who are deafblind.
The installations, known as yarn bombing, were being done Friday on the cutout of Tom Thomson paddling his canoe outside the art gallery, along with the Percy England Parkette at the north end of city hall and at the Grey Gallery garden. The installations take knitted, crocheted and loomed squares of yarn made by CNIB volunteers, clients and others, to create both visible and tactile street art.
“This sort of tactile art is meaningful for a couple of reasons. Obviously it is eye catching for those who can see and it is tactile for those who can’t,” said Vanessa May, specialist of deafblind literacy with the CNIB Deafblind Community Services and chair of the local Deafblind Awareness Month campaign. “It involves a lot of people including friends and family members, employees, but also clients who have contributed squares.”
The yarn bombing campaign was started last year by Deafblind International to get organizations to yarnbomb all over the world to raise awareness about those who are deafblind and the services offered in the community. June is Deafblind Awareness Month.
May said she was impressed with the way people have come through and supported the initiative this year.
“I collected squares from all over,” she said. “We just kind of hoped for the best and what people brought in Owen Sound has been incredible. We have more than enough I think.”
May said the campaign is appropriate for the cause because knitting has always been one of the pastimes those who were deaf and blind would learn either as a hobby or to make clothing, bedding or other items to sell in order to make a living.
“Most people can stop and look at this and appreciate the colours, but there is a population that can’t,” said May. “We do hope people will check out the website and learn more.”
Deafblindness is the condition of little or no hearing and sight. May said it affects a bigger portion of the population than some might be aware of as it includes people who were born deafblind as well as those who have become deafblind with age.
Locally, CNIB offers intervener services, where people act as the eyes and ears for someone who is deafblind, facilitating communication, but also provided detailed information that anyone who can hear and see would be able to obtain on their own.
They also provide 24-hour emergency intervener services in the case of emergencies, as well as a literacy program, where they work with adults on literacy and basic skills.
May said they are also working to expand programs in other parts of Canada where there are gaps in the services available to the deafblind.
Heather McLeese, the art gallery’s curator of public projects and education, said Friday that they were more than happy to have the CNIB create one of the installations at the art gallery. They planned to cover Tom’s entire canoe with the squares. A small panel is included with a QR code and the website deafblindservices.ca/icanchoose for those who want to learn more.
McLeese said it is also an opportunity to engage residents and visitors with some public art as the gallery remains closed due to COVID-19 measures currently in place. Under the province’s reopening plan, the gallery is not expected to reopen until later this summer.
“For me, seeing a yarn bomb it gets you looking at something or seeing something differently,” McLeese said. “It hits those two senses of sight and touch. It is tactile as well as quite visual.”