Usually, a visit to an art gallery is all about the visuals – the painted landscapes of Group of Seven artists, the abstract works of Jackson Pollock or the moody portraits by Rembrandt.

So it was definitely out of the ordinary when, on a Saturday earlier this year, visitors to the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound arrived to find the lights dimmed down considerably.

But there was a reason for the unexpected sight.

The gallery was taking part in a “Lower Your Lights” awareness event; the brainchild of visual artist and TOM employee Trevor Pfeffer, who has retinitis pigmentosa.

“Awareness encourages education and developing understanding. And when we understand what we’re dealing with; when like-minds take up that discussion, we can find ways to adapt and create positive change. But it has to start somewhere, and the arts are a traditional voice for encouraging social awareness/justice,” he says.

After receiving the blessing of TOM director and chief curator Virginia Eichhorn, Pfeffer organized the event with the support of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

He also issued a challenge, via a video he posted to Facebook and YouTube, for other Canadian art galleries to hold their own “Lower Your Lights” event.

The Owen Sound gallery chose a day in February – to coincide with Low Vision Awareness Month – to hold their event. The lights at the gallery were dimmed to 25 per cent of their usual brightness.

There was also information on low vision available for people to pick up from both the Foundation Fighting Blindness and Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Raising awareness about low vision, Pfeffer says, helps to send a message to people living with a visual impairment that they’re not alone and that there are resources and supports available.

It also assists organizations like the Foundation Fighting Blindness to meet their mandates, which include raising money for research into why vision loss occurs, how it can be slowed or stopped and how sight can be restored.
More than one million Canadians are currently living with blinding retinal eye diseases, the foundation says. And those numbers are expected to rise as baby boomers get older.

Pfeffer says he hopes more art galleries will take up the challenge to lower their lights in February 2017.