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.
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By Andrew Palamara, Assistant Director for Docent Learning, Cincinnati Art Museum,Cincinnati, Ohio (March, 2018)
I've been thinking about authority and how it relates to learning in museums. When the first museums were established centuries ago, their prime function was to be institutions of authority. Museums were places where you learned which objects were of greatest importance, and most early museum education programs were designed to teach the lay people how to have proper taste in art, history, or culture. Like most organizations that evolve over time, museums have shifted from that original purpose to one that is based on making their collections accessible to all.
For most museums, docents have been the fulcrum in this shift and have the tall task of changing with the times with consistency and grace. In the past, docents were generally trained to be the epitome of authority. They were taught by lecture and expected to educate the public by lecture. As museums changed, so did their demands of the docents. Guided tours became vehicles for dialogue with visitors rather than a transmission of information from docent to the public, and engagement was the benchmark of a successful museum program. That dynamic is still very much the norm, and rightfully so, but there is a new layer to consider: the voices and perspectives of museum visitors. Incorporating and including visitors in the museum experience is the most urgent and vital task facing museum educators, paid and volunteer alike.