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.



A video of our March, 2024 webinar, Beyond Art History: Creating Great Tour Experiences, an encore presentation based on a breakout session from the 2022 National Docent Symposium in Kansas City. 

Adult visitors have a lot to teach us! How can we prepare to use their questions and comments to facilitate vibrant conversations? Join our Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art docent presenters as they explore a tour framework, including a tool that provides multiple entry points as well as impactful questioning strategies. Older student group also benefit from this approach. 

The following supplemental documents are provided in the links below



A video of our November, 2023 webinar, You Are Welcome: Reconsidering Visitor Engagement, an encore presentation based on a breakout session from the 2022 National Docent Symposium in Kansas City. 

Discover how the Walter’s Art Museum docent corps examined and updated their touring tools and approach to make all visitors feel more welcome. Learn how they used the Museum’s DEAI goals as a framework to elevate their touring practices. 

To view a pdf of the Walters Art Museum Docents Annotated Bibliography referenced in the webinar, please click here.


A video of our first webinar of 2023, Diversifying the Docent Corps: A Case Study from the Crocker Art Museum, an encore presentation of a breakout session from the Kansas City National Docent Symposium last September 

The Crocker Art Museum's Docent Council initiative to diversify its corps has reaped signifigant results over the past three years. Hear their stories and strategies during this one-hour program.

To view a pdf of the presentation slides, please click here.


The NDSC welcomed a new president at the symposium in Kansas City and said goodbye to an able leader as she retired to an advisory role on the board. Madelyn Mayberry (right) stepped down from her position at the helm of NDSC after three years of hard work in uncharted territory. Michelle Carpenter (left) has stepped into her new role as president. Here are Michelle's closing remarks as she celebrated accomplishments and looked to the future.

On November 16, 2021, the NDSC held its first webinar, a panel discussion on the topic The Evolving Docent: Connecting with Audiences and Creating Value in an Ever-Changing World.  

We hope you enjoy this recording.  


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Barbara Schoell and Kathryn Toombs, Docents, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Spring 2021)

We are excited to be preparing for the National Docent Symposium to be held in Kansas City in September 2022.  We are looking forward to introducing our city to our fellow Docents and sharing the many great sites and offerings of our Midwestern locale.  We are also looking forward to hosting a Symposium full of new ideas, inspiring speakers, and stimulating, valuable conversation.

While our Kansas City team is working diligently to host a meaningful Symposium, we cannot succeed without the contributions of our fellow Docents near and far.  Those of us who have attended past symposiums know that the Breakout Sessions and the Showcase of Ideas are invaluable and provide timely and relevant content that we enthusiastically carry back to our home museums.  Exposure to other museums’ innovations is a critical component to a successful Symposium.

On May 1, we issued a Call for Presenters, requesting proposals for presentations at Breakout Sessions and at the Showcase of Ideas.  The guidelines for submitting a proposal can be found here.  We encourage all Docents to be thinking about whether your museum has an innovation that would be worthwhile to share.  Have you implemented a unique program, developed a successful approach to a current issue, created solutions addressing a difficult challenge?  Our Call for Presenters will not limit the topics for submission. However, when evaluating the proposals, we will consider whether the presentation will be relevant, thought-provoking, memorable and useful to other attendees.

Please stay tuned!  And please seriously consider participating in our Symposium by presenting at a Breakout Session or the Showcase of Ideas. 

Madelyn Mayberry, NDSC President; Docent, Des Moines Art Center and Pappajohn Sculpture Park (November 2020)

The National Docent Symposium Council convened by Zoom on October 27 and 28 to conduct our annual business meeting. Usually, in the off-year between symposia, we would have been planning for next year - "all hands on deck in support of the upcoming symposium." As you all know, this has not been the usual year, and the Kansas City symposium has been postponed until 2022.

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But the NDSC is still working for you! All of that energy, effort and excitement has been transferred to our digital outreach platforms. We really are working at the intersection of the traditional and the visionary. And we are doing it together. I’m confident that even more "learn, share and connect" initiatives will emerge from our incredibly resourceful community. As an all-volunteer organization we are strengthened by your engagement. We listen to your ideas as expressed on the Facebook Forum and anticipate that you will continue to let us know how we can best serve you and how you wish to be part of our path forward.

Our institutions are recognizing how valuable docents and guides can be in creating virtual experiences. By doing so we are reaching further into our communities and into rural and disadvantaged areas. We are reaching out to those who cannot physically visit our institutions. We are using new platforms for docent continuing education, making participation more accessible and thus potentially creating a more diverse docent body. It’s all good!

By building new skills as “digital docents” we become more valuable to the institutions we serve. The resources shared on the Facebook Forum and on our website can help build those skills. We’d love to do more! Council members have begun their own contributions in support of the Council’s mission. We hope you will join us! Our goal is to raise $15,000 by the end of this year. This would extend our capacity to respond to pandemic related realities and to provide more resources for all who wish to attend, either in person or virtually, the NDS in 2022.

For a summary of the Annual Meeting, please click here.

Eric Timmreck, NDSC Regional Director, Mountain Plains Region; Docent, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Fall 2020)

It’s great to make a difference. Maybe even better is to make more of a difference! As docents, you have experienced the satisfying joy, at the end of a tour, of knowing that your visitors leave with something more than they came with. You have changed them, added something to their existence, offered them a new perspective, added a new element to their connection with the world. Whether it’s through works of art, aspects of science, items of history, or inspiring gardens, we as guides strive to provide an ‘on ramp’ for visitors, helping them relate to these objects of our attention. Perhaps you have helped visitors, in person or virtually, discover a truth that is a new ‘aha’ for them. Now that’s making a difference!

So, what can be even better? Well, don’t we make even more of a difference if we enable docents to be more effective at illuminating the world for our visitors? How can we do this? I would suggest - by sharing ideas, methods, and techniques with docents and guides from across the continent. How much there is to learn through serendipitous interactions with docents from afar!

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..


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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