Treasure Hunt: A Perfect Complement to a Docent Social

A gentleman adjusted his glasses to read, one more time, the clue in his booklet that described a work of art in the Taft Museum of Art. With his hands tied behind his back, he cannot see what is happening around him. Who is he?

"By golly, I think I finally found it," he said to himself as he studied the 16th century Italian Majolica plate in the Renaissance Treasury of the museum. He wrote "a blindfolded cupid" on his answer sheet.

This gentleman was a guest attending the annual Docent Fall Social at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio and was participating in a Treasure Hunt as part of the evening festivities.

In 2016 the hosting docents decided to create a collaborative activity for the evening and Annie Taft's Treasure Hunt was born. The idea for the Treasure Hunt arose out of the desire to add an interesting activity to the already successful Fall Social. Introducing an activity was viewed as a bit risky at first. Would docents and guests prefer to stand around renewing old acquaintances and meeting new friends with wine in hand? Or, would they like to try something new? Because the docents have a love affair with the art in the Museum, the committee chose the latter. Quickly they focused on a Treasure Hunt.

In preparing the questions, care was taken to include both hard questions and easier ones, but only ones that that could be answered by observing the art and labels in the museum. The tricky part in designing the activity was the selection of enough questions that would challenge the docents while having other questions of interest to guests with less background in the Taft collection. Questions were written and rewritten. The Committee shared the idea of the Treasure Hunt and intended questions with the Education staff. When all were satisfied with the plan, a booklet of questions was designed and produced by docents with no cost to the museum.

This annual social evening is always popular, well attended and a good opportunity for docents, their guests and staff to socialize together in the lovely garden of the museum. The café chef prepares a delicious array of appetizers and spirits, including signature cocktails named in honor of Annie and Charlie Taft. The Tafts were the wealthy homeowners at the turn of the century whose home and art collection became the Taft Museum of Art.

The 2016 evening event began with the usual socializing. Many of the Taft docents and staff have worked together for many years and have become good friends. Newer docents and staff find this a perfect venue to meet and greet. During the evening, docents and staff, knowledgeable about the collection, joined in teams with guests on the Treasure Hunt through the museum. Each participant was given an attractive booklet of questions and clues about the art. Each clue used unique details in the artwork to help teams identify the correct answers while exploring the special art collection of the museum.

Seven teams participated in the event with about eight participants per team. Every team approached the task of identifying the art differently. The Treasure Hunt became a good team building exercise because each member of the team brought an array of information and expertise to the table.

Docents found creative ways to engage other team members in the process by suggesting specific tasks and questions to use. One docent remarked that their team had spouses and guests involved by sending them around the galleries to find certain pieces of art. One spouse, who was very determined to help his team looked all around the galleries for a landscape with farmland and pond in the title, and was delighted to find it.
The activity was intended to last thirty minutes, but all groups were so engaged that they worked for over an hour, even with announcements about food and drinks. Eventually, all groups completed the treasure hunt. The winners were determined and each member of the winning team received as a reward a beautiful floral centerpiece from the tables.

At the Taft Museum of Art, our activities and tours are evaluated by participants. Consequently, the committee developed a simple evaluation of the activity. Of the participants who completed the evaluation, the majority rated the organization of the hunt and use of booklet as excellent. The content was rated as the correct degree of difficulty by almost everyone. The question that interested the docents the most was whether they and their guests like having such an activity as a part of the social. Of the respondents, almost all responded yes. Many concluded that the activity was great fun, encouraged thinking in a different way, and should be repeated.

The Treasure Hunt found docents and guests reflecting on the details of the magnificent art collection. Because every work of art in a museum is a treasure, the treasure hunt seemed to be the perfect activity for the docent social event and perhaps other similar museum events. The world class art collection of Annie and Charles is beloved by the docents, staff and visitors. This fun and interactive activity prompted all who attended to look more closely at the details of the collection and to further appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of each piece.

Jane Clarke and Mary Anne Haubner, Taft Museum of Art Docents 

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