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Ellen Lautz, Regional Director for Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia (Summer 2020)

How can museums with different focuses (art, history, nature, science, space) coordinate projects and better serve their communities? In Washington, D.C. the Smithsonian Institute volunteers tackle this idea through a docent consortium which holds an annual workshop open to all Smithsonian docents. One of its goals is, “We will work together as One Smithsonian to amplify the power of the stories we tell, increasing both our reach and our impact.” It allows discussion on ways to explore unexpected connections between Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (i.e. STEAM).

Sharon Bazarian, Docent Chair, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College (June 2020)

Museum docents are now mastering a novel method of bringing art education to the public: “the Virtual Museum Tour.” Back on March 13, when seemingly everything, including our McMullen Museum, closed because of COVID-19, our docent group thought we would be back up and running in a month. When a month had passed, we realized we needed a new approach. Fortunately, we are a university museum and have numerous resources at our disposal, so the idea of a virtual tour was born. 

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Anne Kindseth, Director of Education, Meadows Museum (Summer 2020)

The shift from onsite to online programs came quickly at the Meadows Museum, a university art museum devoted to the art and culture of Spain on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. As the world changed, the museum’s education staff sought to maintain opportunities for service and continued community for their docent corps. Rather than cancel the remainder of docent training for the year, staff moved the training sessions online and the museum continued to enlist docents to serve the public through online programs and a new initiative called Tiny Tours.

The concept for Tiny Tours emerged quickly. Within the first week of working from home, Anne Kindseth, Director of Education, and Kayle Rieger Patton, Education & Accessibility Manager, recognized that the docents were more critical to the museum than ever. Their deep knowledge of the collection and expertise in offering engaging talks about works of art made them key to the museum’s ability to produce a substantial volume of new online content. Education staff pitched the idea for video-based, docent-led talks on single works of art to the museum’s Docent Advisory Council (DAC) and soon thereafter Tiny Tours was launched. 

By Sheila Vidmar, Docent, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Docents are life-long learners. When the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore closed to the public on March 13, 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, docents at the Walters Art Museum learned to operate in new ways, using an online platform to continue socializing, learning and planning for the future.

Walters docents typically meet on Monday mornings between September and May for continuing education, training on special exhibitions, and learning from each other through discussion. But all Monday meetings were cancelled due to the social distancing imposed by COVID-19. By March 24, docent leaders and responsible staff had agreed on a plan to meet via an online meeting platform on Monday, March 30.

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Bob Olmstead, Docent, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, Nevada (February 2020) 

“If these walls could talk,” is a colloquial phrase suggesting clandestine rendezvous and secrets.

The walls at the Nevada Museum of Art do talk! Many of the artists incorporate the walls into their art. By asking open-ended and non-judgmental questions a docent can help viewers discover for themselves the secrets of our walls.

Contemporary Artist Sandow Birk Kicks Off the First Annual Commemorative Lecture Series Honoring the Memory of a Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco Docent

Mary Beth Hagey, Docent Honoree

                        Mary Beth Hagey – Docent Honoree

Luanne Sanders Andreotti, Docent, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

“I like painting, I like art history, you like painting and you like art history, so you are the perfect people to talk to,” Los Angeles based contemporary artist Sandow Birk told a packed hall of docents at the DeYoung Museum of Art in San Francisco. His talk was of great interest to museum volunteers not only because he is represented in the museum’s collection but because it was the first in the new Annual Voices of Contemporary Artists Lecture created to honor the memory of docent, Mary Beth Hagey. Hagey joined the docent class of 2011 and it wasn’t long before she was right at home in the galleries and beyond. “She immediately fell in love with the program, the docents, the art and the visitors,” remembers her sister-in-law, Tricia Hagey, who currently serves as Docent Council president. She remembers that because of her passion and generosity, Mary Beth became a leader within the Council, a popular tour guide and an enthusiastic collector of contemporary art. “I wish you had the chance to know her,” adds fellow docent Steve Luppino. “Everyone who knew her loved her; she had an infectious smile and was a very special person.”

Gladys Muren Webb, Docent, Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Docents at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah are excited to share the current UMFA exhibition Power Couples: The Pendant Format in Art, which is the first major exhibition devoted to a comprehensive look at the pendant format. A pendant is one of two works of art intended as a pair. Typically, each of the pairs are related thematically and are usually displayed next to each other.

The exhibition, curated largely from the UMFA’s dynamic collection of global art, includes an impressive variety of paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs and video art that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and with diverse interests. For example, the paired art includes landscapes, portraits, allegory, abstract art, and even pendant prints of kittens. The exhibition showcases artwork in pairs from the 1500s to contemporary Utah art.

Hattie Lehman, Associate Curator of Education, Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA) 

In 2018, Carnegie Museum of Art switched from our Ask Me program to our current model, Art Chats. Between the education staff and docent corps, the now-popular Art Chat program took a full year to create, pilot, and tweak. These chats are 30-minute in-gallery conversations based on the museum’s collection and special exhibitions. They are designed to bridge the divide between the visitor’s desire to talk with an expert and their apprehension at committing to a full hour tour. Art Chats relieve the pressure to initiate conversations that docents felt in an Ask Me role while providing an opportunity for docent-led engagement around big ideas and exhibition content.

In designing these shorter Art Chats, Carnegie Museum of Art wanted to provide new opportunities for docents to interact with the drop-in visitor beyond the longer, daily public tour. Staff and docents alike struggled with the Ask Me role and wanted to utilize the docents’ deep knowledge and warm personalities in a more structured yet still flexible way. Through a few different iterations and changes, we have landed in a great place.

Anne Llewellyn, Board Chair, Bowers Museum Docent Guild (Santa Ana, CA)

A two-year journey to integrate the Docent Guild into a working collaboration with Bowers Museum’s Education Department began with a docent survey conducted in spring 2017. Key recommendations from the survey were to improve communications within the Docent Guild and between the Docent Guild and museum staff. The findings coincided with a directive from the museum for more oversight by the Education Department. As a result, the Guild and Education Department established procedures for more direct interactions and decision making.

At the August 2018 Docent Guild Board Meeting, Bowers Museum’s Senior Director of Education introduced her idea for the “Life Cycle of a Tour.” Its goal was to be an online resource that would coordinate all aspects of touring and serve both Bowers’ education staff and docents. To ensure completion of the planned work to develop the Life Cycle, the Docent Guild’s chair established a sub-group of the Board, the Planning, Implementation and Evaluation (PIE) Group. Board/PIE Group members included docents responsible for education, standards/evaluation, weekday and weekend touring teams as well as the chair and vice-chair. The group met monthly with the Senior Director of Education and worked together as creators, writers, and evaluators.

Judy Weitzman, Docent, The Walters Art Museum

The Walters family had a great impact on Baltimore in the 19th century, and the 19th century had a great impact on William, Henry, and their extraordinary art collection. With the reopening in the summer of 2018 of a historic house that is part of the Walters Art Museum’s campus, docents were invited to learn, and to teach, how the known and unknown inhabitants of one historic home can present a microhistory of Baltimore during the tumultuous years in which William and Henry lived. 1 West Mt Vernon Place, a Greek-revival mansion built in 1850 for a wealthy neighbor of the Walters family, now offers visitors exciting new ways to experience the Walters’ collection in a distinctive historic home.

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