Celebrating 40 Years: Adjusting to New Philosophies and Adopting New Technology

Interview by Shelagh Barrington, Gallery Guide, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto, Canada; NDSC Regional Director, Canada (May 2022)

R ReeseRenee Reese, Docent, The Mint Museum, Charlotte NC

As part of NDSC’s 40th anniversary Ruby Celebration series, I have been interviewing past members of the NDS Council. Let me introduce you to Renee Reese. Renee first trained as a “Picture Lady” in 1984 and became interested in art education. She has served in three different museums and currently serves as a docent at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a member of the Council, she agreed to be the first coordinator for this website, creating the role and helping to establish the website as one forum for docent education. Renee has observed many changes in museum philosophy and technology that affect docents. I discussed with Renee the need for docents to adapt and change in order to remain relevant.


Hi Renee, happy spring!
The way you moved into your docent career was quite personal. Can you tell us about it?
Yes, my son had a learning disability and unlike today where additional school supports are available there was very little back then. I wanted to find a way to support him in his school. I volunteered in a program called “The Picture Lady” at the High Museum in Atlanta Georgia in 1984. The training was intense, which surprised me as I thought I was going to assist art teachers in the classroom. Instead, I discovered, that I was the art teacher! My involvement in art education continued and I became a docent, after a move to Williamsburg Virginia. After another move in 1998 I joined the docent program at the Mint Museum in Charlotte NC.

And how did you find your way onto the NDS Council?
At the Mint Museum I was inspired by two previous members of the NDS Council. They instilled in me the importance of continuing educational opportunities for docents and especially the sharing of information through the semi-annual National Docent Symposiums.

How did you contribute as a member of the NDS Council?
I took on the role of the first website coordinator which at the time in 2015 was a bit of an experiment. I worked with two NDS Council Presidents, Anne Stellmon and Mina Shea to post articles and update the site. I also acted as the contact for the webmaster, with whom I needed to coordinate website changes and technical issues. I acted as a resource for the following and current website coordinator Sheila Vidmar. And, like my predecessors on the Council, I continued to advocate for docent training and the NDS at the Mint Museum.

How have touring strategies altered during your career as a guide?
I was fortunate to have training early on focused on visitor interaction. The term was “discovery” allowing the visitor to discover aspects of the artwork by themselves. Today we call it visitor engagement. It wasn’t much of a leap to engagement from discovery. However, I am now also more aware of the differences in the backgrounds of those on my tours and seriously consider my choice of vocabulary and terminology.

What are the biggest changes you have experienced as a Guide/Docent?
The Mint has become considerably more community focused. We now include local emerging artists in our roster of exhibitions. Text and labels are also in Spanish when appropriate. There is an expectation that docents use online research to supplement tour preparation and we’ve gone paperless.

Why do you stay involved?
I stay involved because I love being a docent and I think it is important to maintain standards of expertise. There are many changes in museum philosophy and technology that affect docents. We need to adapt and thrive amid those changes to remain relevant. We benefit from the experience of others, and we need to share what works at our museums.

Thank you Renee and I hope you continue to pass on your enthusiasm for knowledge to the docents that follow you at the Mint Museum.