Insight from the Council

The Directors of the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) not only are active docents in their respective cultural institutions but they are frequent and ongoing participants in the symposia over many years. They offer their insight from their experiences at the symposia and how the NDSC offers cultural institutions throughout the United States and Canada an excellent forum for the exchange of new ideas and best practices.

   

Shelagh Barrington, NDSC Director for Canada; Gallery Guide, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (September 2020)

As you are aware, the biennial National Docent Symposium in Kansas City has been postponed until the fall of 2022. Atlanta NDS will take place in 2024 and the Council is currently recruiting a host site for NDS 2026. Canada has been represented in the past; the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted in 2009 and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2017.

Presently, I am the sole Regional Director responsible for Canada. In the past there have been two Directors for Eastern Canada and two for Western Canada, with a four-year commitment spanning two symposia. However, with the decline of Docent/ Gallery Guide volunteers in a number of museums, shrinking museum budgets and the cost of attending our annual Council meetings, there seem to be fewer Canadian volunteers who have resources and/or time to participate on the National Docent Symposium Council.

That is the tough stuff but...the good news is the NDS Council is a great group of educated and dedicated individuals from all over the United States who love what they do. Because of Covid-19 the Council is becoming well versed in digital connecting, which offers great potential for bringing docents/guides together despite geographic distance.

My term as a Director ends at the completion of NDS 2022. Going forward we need vibrant forward-thinking Canadian Docent/Gallery Guide volunteers to take up the challenge of connecting and keeping our community current.  While new Directors are appointed at each symposium, we welcome support year-round from enthusiastic docents and guides across North America. We invite all who are interested in learning how they can help the NDSC fulfill its mission to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheers!

Mina Shea, Docent, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Advisor, National Docent Symposium Council  (Summer 2020)

2020 - the year I decided to attend the Annual Meeting and Museum Expo of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).  My city, San Francisco, was to be the host for the meeting in the Spring. Then the world changed; a pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for us as individuals, society, and cultural institutions. Virtual became the watchword and the AAM took the lead. AAM President Laura Lott said of the museum community, “they came together to hear from leaders within and outside our field, to engage in tough conversations, and enjoy some joyful moments together.”

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Bill Sitzer, Docent, Saint Louis Art Museum; NDSC Midwest Regional Director (Summer 2020)

I've been thinking about being away from the Saint Louis Art Museum, where I am a docent, and the current circumstances of not being able to travel, as I had previously planned, to regional museums for the NDSC in my new role as a regional director. This has been a time for reflection, a time of unexpected solitude. I feel like a character in one of Edward Hopper's famous paintings in which solitary individuals are lost in thought, maybe his Automat, 1927, in the collection of the Des Moines Art Center, or Nighthawks, 1942, at the Art Institute of Chicago, or Morning Sun, 1952, at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Current circumstances have given me time to muse about what I can do as a docent in spite of our current limitations, and how I might do things differently than I had previously thought as those limitations are relaxed. The solitude created by the 2020 pandemic has certainly led me to more fully appreciate the value of being a part of a docent community. Perhaps more importantly, it has afforded me a renewed opportunity to consider the importance of art from a new point of view.

By Sharon Bazarian, Communications Facilitator, NDSC

As Administrator of the National Docents Forum Facebook group, I have been quietly behind the scenes asking questions, posting images and playing games such as Name the Artist. While there has been positive response to that engagement, there are many ways we can create value for this group. So I’m coming out to let you know that there’s a real person working on this page, and I would love to draw the curtain: my name is Sharon Bazarian, and I’m a docent at Boston College McMullen Museum of Art.

The docents on the Forum are fantastic and we’ve grown from 500 members in January to nearly 700 today. In this short amount of time, we have come to know each other and build friendships. We are docents and guides throughout the U.S. and Canada with vital, interesting backgrounds, and I look forward to continuing to build this community. Now more than ever we need to stay connected. I’m happy that this venue can fill a void many of us are feeling as our beloved museums and gardens are temporarily closed.

The Forum is a place where we come together with common goals, to learn from each other and fine-tune our docent skills through conversation. We can discover things within us as we relate to objects, stories, and experiences shared by others. And, we can help each other when we’re stumped on a touring issue; it’s crowd sourcing at its finest! With hundreds of members, there are a myriad of solutions and suggestions to help us all.

Feel free to propose topics for discussion, ask questions or just say hello! The curtain is pulled back; now’s the time for us all to shine.

If you are a docent/guide or staff member who works with docents/guides, please join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/NationalDocentsForum/. Once you have requested membership, you will be asked three questions before being admitted to the group. We are excited to meet you!

By Michelle Carpenter, Vice President, National Docent Symposium Council; Docent, Phoenix Art Museum

For many museums, the winter months signal a slow down in visitors. In the desert Southwest, we are in high gear. As a docent at Phoenix Art Museum for 20 years (how is that possible?!) I love this time of year, when we welcome visitors from near and far. It’s a lively season, and if you have an opportunity to come to Arizona, let me know. I would be happy to show you around PAM.

When I’m not touring students I turn my attention to the NDS Council. As Vice President overseeing the marketing and communications arm of the organization, I have the privilege of working with talented volunteer directors who join me in wanting to provide meaningful resources for all of you.

One of my favorite go-to resources is the Docent Handbook, available now in print and digital formats. Find out more. The Handbook is the NDSC’s primary source of revenue. We are a non-profit organization, so your purchase is a win-win! If you’ve been using the Handbook, we’d love to hear what you think. Post a review on our Amazon page to share your experience, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.your testimonial.

Explore the articles that live within the tabs at the top of this page. How else can we support your touring efforts? What tools and information would you like to see more of that will elevate your practice? Your input helps to guide our efforts. While the Symposium happens once every two years, the NDSC website and private Facebook group - the National Docents Forum - are at your fingertips year round. Visit often and join in.

Learn more about Michelle Carpenter.  

By Mina Shea, President, National Docent Symposium Council, Docent, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Fall 2019)

On October 24th-27th docents, guides and educators representing a broad range of cultural institutions of fine arts, historic houses, textiles and botanical gardens, just to name a few,  will attend the National Docent Symposium in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Smithsonian Freer|Sackler galleries and their docents. Great ideas and voices of experience on docent and guide practice will be shared by both large and small institutions from across the United States and Canada (most recent count 40 States, the District of Columbia and 3 Canadian provinces). I think we all can agree that the biennial symposium is the best forum for the exchange of ideas and personal interaction with our colleagues in North America. We expect a record attendance of 450!

We know that not everyone is able to attend the symposium. The National Docent Symposium Council strives to “Keep the exchange alive” and to provide a professional network for docents, guides and educators nationally and internationally all year and every year. This year we will offer comments from attendees directly from the symposium on our Facebook page and in our Facebook forum so the many who are unable to attend will get a small taste of the symposium. Remember also that following each symposium, many of the presenters share their handouts and PowerPoint presentations on our website This is one of the most visited pages on our website. Most recently, a docent from Crystal Bridges who attended the Montreal symposium in 2017 shared with the NDSC the video she created for her own museum colleagues. Take a virtual visit to the Montreal symposium.

The NDSC is YOUR voice for exchange and we thank the many docents, guides and educators who have contributed with presentations at the symposium, with articles for thoughtful consideration and fun (we docents and guides sharing stories of their world travel).   Help us” Keep the Exchange Alive.” Get the word out to colleagues in your own institution and neighboring institutions.   Become a part of the professional network for docents, guides and educators at www.nationaldocents.org.

Click Here to learn more about Mina

Hazel Peach, Docent, Philadelphia Museum of Art; NDSC Director (February 2019)

As chair of the Recruitment Committee I am excited to let you know that during our 2019 symposium in Washington, D.C. we will be electing new directors who will serve on the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) for a four-year term. Recruitment starts in April and you can find out more on our Director Information and Recruitment page.  
The NDSC is looking for docents/guides who have a shared interest in continuing the mission of the NDSC to promote continuous improvement in docent practice. The directors’ primary responsibility is to work together as a group promoting the National Docent Symposium (NDS) and other NDSC educational initiatives. Directors participate and encourage engagement with our interactive website and the National Docents Forum Facebook closed group, as well as promoting our Docent Handbook 2. We seek individuals with excellent communications skills and an ability to collaborate and work remotely. Specifically, this year we are looking for docents/guides who have skills in marketing, development or social media. During their term NDSC directors attend four NDSC business meetings which include two symposia. This is an all-volunteer organization and directors serve at their own expense.
This is a great opportunity to connect and work with docents and guides from all over the United States and Canada. Council directors often visit their fellow Council members' museums, sharing ideas and at the same time developing many rewarding friendships.
Please consider joining us!
Email us with any questions This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click here to learn more about Hazel Peach.

Linda Oidtmann, Docent, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH; New England Director, NDSC, and Chair NDSC Education Grants (November 2018)

As of 2017, the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) has awarded 43 education grants to volunteer docents/guides attending a National Docent Symposium for the first time.   The grants cover the registration fee and support the NDSC goal of broadening the number of museums, galleries and cultural institutions that will send docents/guides to future symposia. It is our belief that all docents/guides can benefit from the outstanding educational programs, speakers and ideas offered at National Docent Symposia.

In 2003 a scholarship (education grant) fund was established by the Natural History Museum of the County of Los Angeles, to honor Carole and Gene Kramer. Carole (a docent and former NDSC president) and Gene were strong supporters of the museum, both sharing generously of their time and resources. The Kramers continued to add to the fund on a regular basis for many years.

Most recently, grants have been solely financed from NDSC funds raised largely through sales of The Docent Handbook 2 and commemorative gifts and donations to the NDSC. This year, four of the grants will be funded by gifts received in memory of Sybil Williamson, a docent at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, and NDSC director and Past-President; and a gift given by Council members to honor Anne Stellmon, our current Past President.

Visit the NDSC Education Grants page to donate to the education grants fund to honor or acknowledge the service of a docent/guide at your museum. The NDSC is a 501 (c) (3); for US taxpayers your donation is fully tax-deductible.  Contact us if you have any questions regarding your gift at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..    

Click here to learn more about Linda Oidtmann.

By Jan Thorman, Docent, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD; Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, NDSC (August 2018)

Every other year since 1981, volunteer docents from many different kinds of institutions--art museums, natural history museums, science museums, botanical gardens, children’s museums, history museums and historical sites--have come together at the National Docent Symposium. At the Symposium, they exchange of ideas, education, fellowship, and learning with colleagues across the United States and Canada.
Organized and presented by docents for docents, each Symposium offers a unique and useful program, including workshops by docents and museum educators, informative off-site workshops and special tours, guest speakers, and more. The Symposium also offers participants a chance to learn about museums and cultural sites in the host city and the challenges and innovations of their docents.
While each symposium is organized by a different host museum or museums, they all offer a rich formal program as well as opportunities to network with docents from different parts of North America. Docents who attend a Symposium return to their home institution full of energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas.
Join us in Washington, DC, October 24-27, 2019, to discover for yourself the excitement and energy of the National Docent Symposium.

Questions about the symposium? contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click here to learn more about Jan Thorman

 

Madelyn Mayberry, Vice President, National Docent Symposium Council (June 2018)

The NDS 2019 Washington DC team has put out a call for Breakout/Workshop presenters. The deadline is August 1, 2018. Are you thinking of submitting a breakout? What will make it irresistible?

One of the great breakouts I attended in Montreal was presented by docents from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. They modeled a hands-on activity designed for 6th graders to build museum literacy through actually designing an exhibit. Essentially, we learned to be curators. We handled actual art/material culture objects which the docents had brought with them and, after following instructions to "observe, describe, investigate, analyze and infer," we arranged them in a thematic sequence. In a short time, by incorporating a sensory experience, we were studying objects from the past, but also opening up to each other and having fun! It was active, it gave us an opportunity to connect and form relationships.  

Docents and staff from the Huntington Museum of Art (WV) introduced a middle-school study program called "Turn Up The Heat." Museum studios and the ceramic collection are both used to make direct connections between art and STEM fields. The museum's collections have inspired other STEAM tours. One focused on the history of glass-making, another on the chemistry and physics of firearms and a photosynthesis tour of the Edwards Conservatory that asks students to consider "how does the heat and light of the sun turn into food for plants." Several handouts detailed the nuts and bolts aspects of developing a STEAM program from scratch and photos of students and docents in action made the tours come alive. It was an intense and inspiring experience.

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Both sessions gave me useful and tested ideas, methods and materials that I could take home and adapt to my situation. But I could get all that just sitting on a hotel chair and listening to a lecture. What made them memorable for me was the active involvement of the senses (holding and passing around objects and debating their meaning) in the first and, in the second, the "you are there" visual documentary that immersed us vicariously in the STEAM tour experience and sparked lively Q and A. Active engagement by attendees is where excitement happens.

What does it mean to create a memorable experience? What do you personally find engaging, inspiring and uplifting? Do you expect time and space for networking? How important is it to have a little fun? If you are thinking of submitting a proposal you might consider these questions as you prepare your application.

The deadline for submitting proposals to present in the 2019 symposium is August 1, 2018.

Questions about the symposium? contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click here to learn more about Madelyn.  

 

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