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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.

Madelyn Mayberry, Vice President of the National Docent Symposium Council; Docent, Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Docents braved the storm to provide a promised outdoor sculpture tour.

Toni Kendrick, Docent, The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC 

I love a Highlights tour. As a docent at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, I find that crafting a Highlights tour is one of the most creative aspects of being a docent.

I use a 5-point building block format that I gleaned from the National Docent Symposium Council Docent Handbook.

Marge Philbin, Docent, Albuquerque Museum

This is a story about one museum’s success in defining the elements of good tour delivery and developing a feedback reference tool for docent trainees to improve tour quality.

Albuquerque Museum has a volunteer docent population of 123 who, in a 2017 evaluation survey, asked for more feedback on their tours. In response, a team of five advanced docents, with a total of 56 years combined experience, developed a checklist called Tour Guidelines. The Guidelines, approved by the museum’s education staff, are a printed metric with examples of observable behaviors that can be used by each docent for self-improvement.

John Allen, Docent, Philadephia Museum of Art/Park House Guide

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a time-honored institution and lovingly revered by the citizens of this city. Within its walls are housed countless individual works of art eagerly viewed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.  Outside the museum walls, in the adjacent Fairmount Park, is a string of 18th century homes that were once the playground of wealthy citizens of Philadelphia. These historic mansions offer the visitor a rare and intimate peek into daily life of that time. Park House Guides is the volunteer docent organization affiliated with PMA which offers public tours of those houses.

Chris Ratliff, Docent, The Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA 

If you search around for a good definition of "museum," whatever you find will probably not come close to describing what you viscerally and intellectually experience every time you step into the museum that is your second home. We museum-philes understand that within the brick and steel, glass and mortar structure, whether bland or grand, are literally the wonders of the genre on display. That is, any and every exhibit tells many facets of a rich narrative of history, zeitgeist, aspiration, genius, foolishness, success, failure, excess, understatement, etc. If you don't sense those friendly spirits communing with you when you roam the floors, then you're not in a museum, you're in a curio shop. A museum may be dedicated to art, technology, natural history, or whatever, but the narrative on display is always at its core the same, just from a different perspective: humanity. In that regard, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is no different than the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

As museum educators, we're often worried about what's next: upcoming exhibitions, our next tour, planning special programs, etc. But if we open our minds to a different understanding of time, can we form a new relationship with the future?

Art, science, and Eastern philosophies offer a key to unlocking this possibility and we are exploring all these perspectives at the Rubin Museum of Art in 2018. This entire year will focus on reframing our relationship with the future and engaging visitors through future-themed exhibitions, programs, tours, and events.This was a welcome challenge when planning for docent trainings. My goal was to prepare our team to engage with visitors through the lens of Future, encouraging them to consider their hopes and anxieties and learn how concepts in Buddhism and Hinduism can help them expand their understanding.

March is Woman's History month and a very busy time at The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Recently celebrating its 30th anniversary, the museum is home to over 5000 works of art by 1000 artists dating from the Renaissance to the present day. Along with the permanent collection and the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, there are several spaces for special exhibitions. On view until May 28 is Women House featuring work by 36 artists including Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Also on view are prints by Chinese-born artist Hung Liu through July 8th.

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