Steph Roberts
1 November 2023

The Blind Harpists: Another Look

Steph Roberts

1 November 2023 | Minute read

The Blind Harpists: Another Look is a project that challenged outdated ideas about blindness in museums.

For this project, I invited a group of blind or vision-impaired artists and contributors – Bridie, Emma, Siân, Lou, and Margaret – to work alongside me to take ‘another look’ at portraits of Blind Harpists in the historic art collection at National Museum Cardiff. Over the course of a day-long workshop, we had lively and meaningful conversations about the portraits, the representation of blindness in art, and what it means as disabled people to be ‘seen’ – or not – by our cultural institutions. The conversations that took place during this workshop informed the creation of new Audio Descriptions, and updated interpretation for the portraits. 

This bilingual film documents the workshop, and includes interviews with some of those who took part. The film is available with and without Audio Description.

The Blind Harpists (with Audio Description)

Want to watch with subtitles? Click ‘CC’ on the video player and choose to watch with closed captions.

The Blind Harpists (without Audio Description)

Want to watch with subtitles? Click ‘CC’ on the video player and choose to watch with closed captions.

Why are projects like The Blind Harpists: Another Look so important?

When it comes to disabilities, museums hold a lot of power. They make assumptions about what people can and can’t do in gallery spaces. They decide what access provisions to invest in – or not. Where they hold objects related to disabilities, they decide which stories are told about these objects, and how disability is represented and understood. And when these decisions are being made by a group of mostly nondisabled people – as is often the case – injustices, ableism, and damaging misconceptions take root. This project was one small step towards highlighting and addressing this.

How does this project challenge the way blindness is usually represented in museums and the visual arts?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the portraits of Blind Harpists in the museum’s collection, and have wanted to explore the stories behind them. But more than that, I was curious about what they might mean to blind audiences today, and I wanted to create an opportunity that allowed multiple voices and perspectives to be brought in to the re-telling of these stories. The project invited blind and partially blind contributors to help create new interpretation for these portraits, through creative conversation and discussion. This new interpretation is now available on the museum’s website for anyone to enjoy, whatever their level of sight.

Blind people are hugely under-represented across the whole museum and visual arts sector. This is not because they are unable to do the job – far from it – but because of the structural inequalities, misconceptions, and lack of basic understanding and access support which would enable them to thrive in a museum environment. As a result, we are missing out on valuable insights, views and perspectives that could potentially enrich everyone’s understanding of art and visual culture. Until we have more equitable access and inclusion, projects like this are an essential way of celebrating the richness and variety that becomes possible when we explore more creative approaches to inclusion.

A bit about me

I'm a freelance visual arts curator, interpreter and researcher based in Wales. My interests include health and illness narratives, disability justice, and neglected voices in art history and I work with museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions to bring these narratives to life. I have many years’ experience developing and delivering creative Audio Described content for blind and partially blind visitors. Although I am non-blind myself, I do live with a disabling chronic illness, and have direct experience of trying to navigate and work within an art world that prioritises the voices and needs of non-disabled people. Find me at

Credits – contributors and collaborators

With thanks to the artists and contributors for their enthusiasm and input: Bridie, Emma, Lou and Guide Dog Taffy, Margaret, Siân and Guide Dog Uri, Rebecca, and Rosanna.

The project was developed as part of a research fellowship funded and supported by the Understanding British Portraits Network, with additional support from Amgueddfa Cymru and Sight Life.

Film produced by Elin Mannion and filmed and edited by Robert Cannon. Audio Description voiceover in English by Alastair Sill, and Welsh by Steph Roberts.

The University of Westminster, in collaboration with the Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, VocalEyes, and Access Smithsonian, have created the W-ICAD model (Workshop for Inclusive Co-Created Audio Description). This model gives museum staff a template for the co-creation of Audio Description, by and for mixed groups of blind, partially blind, and sighted visitors. With thanks to the researchers for their advice and guidance during the planning of The Blind Harpists workshop.


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