At the End of the Tunnel, Linda Brant-Malm Shines Light
Watching Linda Brant-Malm host one of her tactileARTtalks, you will quickly learn several things about her: Linda is an artist, a storyteller, a teacher. As the talk unfolds, you’ll also discover she has an empathetic ear and sharp sense of humor.
And yes, you will understand that she’s living with vision loss…but this will feel secondary. Like the other people in the circle with her, she does not let vision impairment define her.
As Linda puts it so aptly, “We aren’t just our eyeballs. There’s a human with a mind and a heart connected to those eyes.”
While those words resonate immediately with everyone in the Vision Loss Resources community, Linda’s journey to sharing that message through her art was one of perseverance. Early in her career, Linda thrived in the theater as a costume and set designer. But a diagnosis of tunnel vision (also known as peripheral vision loss) set her on a new path that began without much support.
After a doctor told her, “There’s nothing I can do for you,” Linda found VLR and discovered there was a lot she could do—for herself. As she toured our building, she thought of her father, who also experienced vision loss. “My dad never got any of this help,” she remembers telling a VLR staff member as she toured our building.
Along with support from State Services for the Blind, Linda began creating tactile art. As she puts it, “When we have vision loss, we can see art by touching it.” As she became more involved with Vision Loss Resources, VLR President & CEO Kate Grathwol posed the idea of Linda sharing her work in our support groups. Soon, her entrepreneurial concept for tactileARTtalks took shape, and she began hosting workshops for Vision Loss Resources clients. Using her artwork as centerpieces, Linda leads small groups through sessions that offer a range of valuable information and interactive opportunities, including basic techniques for walking safely with low vision, emotional connection with others also experiencing vision loss, and a spirit of creativity that is contagious.
“Our core topics are loss, adapting, hope, and healing,” Linda explains. “People in the workshop actively use their hands as they touch and handle the pieces. As I share my story, they start to share their story as they feel comfortable.” What she does brings the practical and connective sides of VLR’s work together. By weaving in practical skills while drawing out stories she brings people together in community to live with vision loss in a fully empowered way. (To get a sense for one of her workshops, click the video clip at right to see Linda guiding a discussion of her tactile piece, “My Light at the End of the Tunnel.”)
While it can get heavy talking through challenges like coping with anxiety and depression, Linda also makes sure to introduce some levity. “When I’m having one of those down days,” she tells the circle, “the first thing I do: eat dark chocolate.” As the others nod and laugh, she passes out chocolate candies.
Along the way, she drops in gems of wisdom that could double as Vision Loss Resources mottos, like: “Living with vision loss is not just learning Braille.”
Linda has big plans for tactileARTtalks, and sees her work aligned with the recent movement toward more tactile art in the community. “For so long, art museums have been a no-touch world,” she says. “But now there is a movement to make exhibits tactile, and using 3D computers to make the Mona Lisa a three-dimensional piece that people can feel, for example. I want my workshops to be part of that movement.”
Through the support of State Services for the Blind, Springboard for the Arts, and a SCORE mentor (and of course VLR), Linda has launched a vision loss-friendly website for her workshops and she is building a business plan and marketing plan to connect with more teaching opportunities in the broader community. Echoing the title of her piece, “My Light at the End of the Tunnel,” Linda found a way to navigate her vision loss that has brought light to so many, both inside our organization and out. We are so grateful she has shared her light with us at Vision Loss Resources.