Facilitating communication and collaborative interaction among U.S. and Canadian volunteer docents/guides is part of the mission of the National Docent Symposium Council. "Interchange" is a new way to help us accomplish this mission. In this part of our website, you will find articles and links about emerging as well as challenging topics facing our institutions that affect our docent practice. We hope this initiative will encourage exchange of ideas among our peers. Be a contributor.   See guidelines for submissions. The first topic for Interchange is Inclusion and Diversity.

Find online resources on inclusion and diversity here

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.

nelson atkins museum

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

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.

Empathy 1

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. 

By Frances Bleviss, Gallery Guide, Art Gallery of Ontario (August 2018)

Diversity is when everybody’s invited to the party…Inclusion means that everybody is asked to dance.”
Dr. Johnetta Cole, Former Director of The Smithsonian Museum of African Art

Canada, as a nation, is engaged in the process of Reconciliation, working at making amends for the unjust treatment of its Indigenous Peoples. Canada’s First Nations, The Inuit of Canada’s North, and The Metis rightfully claim their rights as full and equal citizens, entitled to the treatment Canada has traditionally afforded those who came to its shores as immigrants.

Appropriately, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto is responding to the need to ensure the gallery presents Canada’s historical and present narratives from multiple points-of-view. Both the Vision and Mission Statements of the AGO make reference to a greater and more diverse community. This has given rise to a clear focus on the decolonization of the gallery and its collection. One of the lenses of Interpretation is, “Telling the story from a point of view that considers the simultaneous histories and perspectives.” In the galleries, “language will be inclusive, contemporary and accessible.”

By Mina Shea, President, NDSC, Docent, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (July 2018)

Photo: Mina Shea at the Japanese American National Museum

As President of the National Docent Symposium Council (and a docent), I have the great privilege of learning from and sometimes visiting an amazing range of cultural institutions in both the US and Canada.

A recent visit to Los Angeles was an opportunity to connect personally with the educational staff of some of the larger institutions already familiar with our organization. I also discovered two very important cultural institutions: The Museum of Tolerance (MOT) and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Robert Moriguchi, a docent of 20 years with the Japanese American National Museum guided us through the primary exhibition "Common Ground: The Heart of the Community."  Bob shared his personal experience in an internment camp during WWII and began the tour by saying that the Japanese American story is an American story, and that history is an important teacher.

Deb Hansen, Docent, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (June 2018)

I recently facilitated a tour of the Des Moines Art Center for a group of fourth-grade students. At the first stop along the tour, I noticed that a girl was responding to my questions about the painting with comments that had nothing to do with the art. Her behavior was noticeably different from her peers, she interrupted other students with remarks that were off-topic, moved constantly, and bumped into her peers and the walls as we moved around the museum. My first thought was that unless I started making some adjustments, the tour would not be a success for her or for the other twelve children in the group. My job was not to guess why the girl was challenged by the museum setting. My job was not to ascribe a label or to make assumptions about her behavior. My job in this and every tour is to use every strategy in my docent repertoire to make sure that she and every student felt safe, respected, and valued, and had the chance to have a great experience in the museum.

Quickly recalling strategies for helping students with special needs, I asked the group to sit down in front of our next stop, positioning the girl beside me and praised her for following directions. To keep her and others engaged, I implemented a series of techniques, such as seeking quiet areas of the museum, paraphrasing students' comments, and having students walk with a partner between works.

By Gin Wachter, Docent, St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, President of the Docent Council of Metropolitan Saint Louis and Advisor for the NDSC (June 2018)

On March 26, 2018 the Missouri Historical Society (MHS) presented "Accessibility and Inclusivity Forum" with the Docent Council of Metropolitan Saint Louis. The Historical Society was the first recipient of the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Award from American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in 2017. That same year MHS was also honored with the Shine the Light Award from Paraquad, a local nonprofit that supports people with disabilities. The MHS is modest in saying that there is still work to be done, and that their accessibility committee is continually advancing their efforts to make history available to all.

 The Forum started with a lecture by Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity. As a long time staff member of the MHS she led us through the Missouri Historical Society's Journey to Inclusivity. It was not an easy task to do on their own so they worked with many local organizations to help them reach their goals. Some of those organizations include the Alzheimer's Association, local Visually Impaired organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, Hearing Loss societies and other disability groups and many more.

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