From Idea to Implementation – The Docent Public Tours Task Force at The Mint Museum

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.     

Tour 1

ArtBreak was the first tour incubated by the Mint Museum PTTF. On the third Thursday of every month, a half hour themed tour is given at noon at each of the three museums forming the Levine Center for the Arts in Uptown Charlotte: The Mint Museum, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture. A collaborative committee composed of Mint docents and staff at the other museums worked to develop the tour.

This very popular public tour is free and almost 2,000 visitors have taken advantage of the program. It was the first regularly scheduled coordinated museum tour in the Charlotte museums and has become the main stay of the ongoing collaborative effort among the three museums.

Mint article 2

                                                             Stroller tour pilot

The Levine Center committee meets monthly to set themes for ArtBreak tours, monitor marketing efforts and tally data on visitor numbers. This joint committee continues to investigate new initiatives and is looking at adding a Stroller Tour at the three sites. In addition, it is hoped that a shared event can be created with the Knight Performing Arts Theater that is also part of the Levine Center campus.

Mint article 3

                                         Art of Reading docent training

Tour 2

Art of Reading (AOR) combines art and literature, in tours for book groups and the public. The development of this tour relied heavily on information from other museums with successful book-related tours. To date, five books have been chosen, researched and paired with art objects by the AOR committee. Publicity by the museum and outreach by the committee invite book groups to enjoy a 60 or 90-minute session that includes both a discussion and a tour. These tours are also available, at regular scheduled times, to the general public. A new book addition will include middle school age students. To date, there have been 48 Art of Reading tours engaging almost 500 visitors.

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                                  Mint on the Dot graphic

Tour 3

Mint on the Dot was introduced during a special exhibition and proved very successful. It is modeled on “Talks on the Dot: Bridging the Gap for the Tour Averse,” presented by the Art Gallery of Ontario at the 2015 Cincinnati National Docent Symposium. The Mint version features two 10-minute talks on Wednesday evenings (when the museum is free) and on Saturdays. Docents choose an artwork, introduce the work and lead a 10-minute discussion on that one work of art. Further discussion following the Dot talk is encouraged.

Moving Forward

The PTTF’s work is ongoing and more tours are continually being incubated. For example, The Art of Dining, featuring the Mint’s Decorative Arts collection, will debut later this year.
Each tour type has dedicated docent committee members who meet regularly to ensure the continued success of the tours and provide specialized training for other docents who are interested in providing the tours.

PTTF tours are supported by museum marketing that includes rack cards, sandwich boards, digital signage and online and print promotion. Additionally, Art of Reading books are featured in the museum shop.

By happy coincidence, a grant to foster collaboration among the Levine Center institutions was utilized to foster ArtBreak’s start up through the purchase of materials, graphic design and advertising. Expenses beyond the initial costs have been and will be covered by the three museums. All other PTTF tours have received materials through the Mint’s Learning and Engagement Department budget.

In summary, the Mint Museum, Docent Public Tours Task Force (PTTF ) capitalized on the diversity of interests and abilities within its docent community to initiate, create and implement the tour programs mentioned. We also drew on the experience of docents at other museums. This innovative approach enabled our docents to meet the needs of the Mint Museum and other museums through support of its tour program. The PTTF model can be adapted by other docent/guide groups who seek new opportunities to broaden their touring opportunities.