Here, you will find articles and links about efforts in our institutions to promote docent practices that encourage diversity, equity and inclusion. We hope this initiative will encourage exchange of ideas among our peers. Be a contributor. See guidelines for submissions.
Find online resources on inclusion and diversity here
Bill Sitzer, Docent, Saint Louis Art Museum Regional Director, National Docent Symposium Council
Recent turbulent events have increased national awareness of racial tensions and economic disparities in the United States. As cultural resources, museums are uniquely situated to explore these issues and to provide opportunities to develop and nurture diversity and inclusion in their communities. As the Saint Louis Art Museum continues to engage with these challenges, it seems like a good time to reflect on one of the Museum’s true success stories many years in the making.
Pamm Prebil, Gallery Guide, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (February 2020)
February marks Black History Month, an opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to the many African American men and women who have made significant contributions to the world in all fields of study, work and culture. Exhibits during Black History Month have become an opportunity for museums to not only celebrate the artistic achievements of black culture but to raise awareness of diversity, spotlight social issues and provide a means for conversation on these subjects.
Ellen Susman, Docent, Denver Art Museum (DAM) (Summer 2019)
As an African American artist, Jordan Casteel’s early experiences in Denver and her awareness around issues of racial equality, influenced her primary choice of subject matter – portraits of African American males. This was further expanded when she began painting people she noticed while walking from her apartment to the Studio Museum in Harlem. Coming from a family that was well known in civil rights circles, Jordan’s paintings ask the viewer to focus on the humanity of these men (and more recently women). The title of the show, “Returning the Gaze,” further conveys her desire for the observer to interact with these individuals and to consider notions of visibility.
For this exhibition, the DAM organized a Community Advisory Committee made up of individuals involved in the arts (including a DAM docent), government, and non-profit agencies. The role of this group was to support the exhibition planning team in shaping a narrative that resonated with local issues and perspectives. They also supported and helped share our programmatic approach and acted as conduits to community partners.
Michele Allen, Public Tours Task Force Chair; Laura Hamelau, ArtBreak Chair; Sidonie Webber and Laura Hamelau, Levine Center Collaborative Committee Co-Chairs; Alice Ross, Art of Reading Chair; Laura Hamelau, Mint on the Dot Chair (Summer 2019)
The Mint Museum Public Tours Task Force (PTTF) is a docent-driven and docent-empowering initiative created to ignite, inspire and engage docents, the museum, and the community in new, meaningful and memorable experiences.
The PTTF was formed in 2014 as a result of two brainstorming sessions facilitated by Mint Museum staff from our Learning and Engagement department. The sessions tapped the enthusiasm, dedication, experience and creativity of our docent community.
Two years of research by the PTTF docents capitalized on the experience of staff at the Mint, as well as other museums, and led to three outstanding tour programs.
Deanna Storm, Docent, Gilcrease Museum (March 2019)
With immigration being a subject very much in the forefront of the current American dialogue, Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has added a unique perspective to this dialogue through an exhibition drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.
The exhibition showcases the many positive contributions that immigrants have made, and continue to make, to American life and culture. It includes more than 50 works of art (paintings and sculpture) celebrating more than 200 years of American art by 26 immigrant artists. Included are works by John James Audubon (Haiti), Albert Bierstadt (Germany), Leon Gaspard (Russia), Emanuel Leutze (Germany) Thomas Moran (England), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Ireland), Jules Tavernier (France), and Olaf Wieghorst (Denmark), as well as other artists. Several themes are explored through the eyes of immigrant artists, including American Faces, American Places, American Wildlife, Native Americans, American Cowboys, and American Manifest Destiny.
David Winton, Docent, Palm Springs Museum of Art (March 2019)
When I first heard that I was selected to be a “Specialist” for Unsettled, Art on the New Frontier, I thought, "what have I committed myself to this time?"
Once I had read the catalog I knew this was going to be a docent’s dream.
The original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Museum Building and the new Bloch Building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Bloch Building was designed by Steven Holl and reflected in the water of Walter De Maria's One Sun/34 Moons
Pati Chasnoff, Carol Cowden, and Denise Saper, Docents, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Co-chairs of the 2021 National Docent Symposium to be hosted by the Nelson- Atkins Museum in Kansas City (March 2019)
Docents play an important role in welcoming new audiences to the museum setting. These are just a few “happenings” at the Nelson:
Free community festivals recognizing the Chinese New Year, Juneteenth, the Day of the Dead and the American Indians have become a part of the Nelson-Atkins museum space. At these events, museum guides provide family activities or information at “stations” of art relevant to the event.
Amelia Wiggins, Manager of Gallery Learning & Interpretation, Delaware Art Museum (November 2018)
In 2017, the Delaware Art Museum embarked on a new strategic plan that put community relevance and inclusion at the forefront of our vision for our institution. The strategic plan initiatives have affected every aspect of the museum and its work. We were fortunate that internal training to confront racial bias, for both staff and volunteer museum guides, was set as a priority.
After our first year of internal training, I sat down with Gilda Teixido Kelsey, a member of the Delaware Art Museum’s newest museum guide class. Gilda is a native of Paraguay and a former university educator. She provides a valuable perspective on our museum, the museum guide corps, and the changes we are making to better serve local communities.
Gilda Teixido Kelsey participating in a gallery activity with her fellow museum guides
Janice Ferebee, Docent, National Museum of African American History and Culture (October 2018)
The Smithsonian’s 19th and newest museum, the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), tells the story of American history through the African American lens. One of the most visited museums in the Smithsonian’s portfolio, NMAAHC celebrated its two-year anniversary on September 24, 2018, having welcomed over 4 million diverse visitors from around the world.
A century in the making, NMAAHC’s road to realization was well worth the wait. In 1915, African American veterans from the Union Army gathered in Washington, DC, at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, for a reunion and parade. Upset by the discrimination and racism many faced upon returning from the war, they formed a committee to develop a space to acknowledge African American achievements. Fast forward to September 24, 2016, when NMAAHC opened to the public with fanfare, honor, and jubilation. Built on 5 acres that were part of an 800-acre tobacco plantation owned by Notley Young, the museum is steeped in history, literally, from the ground up!
By Michelle Carpenter, Docent, Phoenix Art Museum; Regional Director, NDSC (August 2018)
As a volunteer at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Expo in May, I was fortunate to observe and participate in several workshops. Many centered around the theme of diversity and inclusiveness. A session titled, Empathy-Building through Museums, drew over 200 attendees who experienced first-hand what empathy-building might look and feel like in a museum setting. Excellent resources on the topic are available online, and select links are shared below.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.