Open Access: Carmen Papalia Offers New Ways to Experience the World Around Us

by Elizabeth L. Delaney

Carmen Papalia, McColl Center for Art + Innovation artist-in-residence, shares his conceptual work as personal expression, but also delves deeper to mine those concepts as conduits for navigating the world in new and unexpected ways. 

Living as a non-sighted person has obviously shaped the way Papalia views our collective existence. More than that, it has also spurred him to examine and subsequently redefine notions of accessibility and acceptance in contemporary culture. 

His residency project, Open Access, challenges how we see not only art, but also the world at large. It presents us with a way to further open our minds and embody empathy and respect across the socio-cultural spectrum.

Open Access consists of five tenets offering new meanings for accessibility in comprehensive, abstract terms that encourage wider understanding across sensory boundaries. 

Papalia writes, “…this new paradigm for accessibility broadly considers agency in relation to power, and encourages points of connection and support across the matrix of social, cultural, and political boundaries that typically enforce alienation.” 


Artist Carmen Papalia leads a walking tour in 2012 [Photo by Jordan Reznick. Courtesy of the artist.]

As part of his residency, Papalia is also co-teaching a class at UNC Charlotte that centers on environmental installations. Together with UNCC art professors Janet Williams and Tom Schmidt, Papalia shares with students how artists can draw on all their senses to convey both physical and figurative manifestations of their ideas and experiences. Papalia describes this practice as the “diversity of approaches to documentation.”

The students began the semester by exploring McColl Center and its immediate surroundings as non-sighted visitors (e.g. they toured the space with their eyes closed). 

More recently, they used clay, sound equipment, and photography as they retraced their steps—this time with sight—to document physical and emotional elements they encountered during their initial walkabout. 

For their final project, the students have been tasked with building an art installation that re-creates the area in and around McColl Center in their own gallery space at UNCC. In doing this, they will interpret their findings as a visual outcome, but at the same time will address the notion of “open access” in terms of sensory immersion and spatial awareness. 

Ultimately, Papalia and his students hope to give people new mechanisms to see, interpret, and get more in touch with all their senses, while underscoring the need for implicit acceptance in any social environment. 

The class will culminate in an opening reception for the exhibition on October 30 at UNCC. Visitors will have the option to engage with the installation with their eyes closed to receive the purest sensory experience possible. 

Prior to the opening at UNCC, Papalia will lead a Blind Field Shuttle on Sunday, October 15, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for the general public. The hour-long walking tour begins at McColl Center, where participants form a line, link together, close their eyes, and experience Uptown as never before. The event concludes with lunch and an artist-led discussion at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. 

The Blind Field Shuttle is $15 for McColl Center Members and $20 for non-members (cost includes lunch and discussion). Free for the walking tour only. Registration is required.