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.


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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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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 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

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.

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