More Docent News

Sharing Ideas and Experience

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.

Or, What it's Like to Have One of the Longest Titles Ever: Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum (NASM)

Being a volunteer at the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world, is an honor no matter what role you play. For me, best of all is being a NASM Docent. As a child a family vacation to Washington DC gave me my first exposure to the Smithsonian and the Air and Space Museum. From that time on I knew aviation and the Smithsonian would both be in my life. My military and civilian career path never led to a job with the Smithsonian. However, I did serve in the US Air Force and got my private pilot's license. Then, as soon as I became eligible to retire, I purposely scheduled my retirement date for a Friday and started volunteering at the Smithsonian that following Monday.

The Freer Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., re-opened to the public on 14 October after undergoing over 18 months of infrastructure repair. The Freer, along with the Sackler Gallery, comprise the Asian Art Museums of the Smithsonian Institution. The re-opening included a two-day "IlluminAsia" festival. It was 'all hands on deck' for the Freer|Sackler docent corps as the celebratory re-opening brought approximately 50,000 people to events both inside and outside the museum. Docents provided in-gallery interpretation, acted as 'way finders', and supervised activities for both adults and children during the weekend. Activities included an Asian night market on the National Mall, so popular that the food stalls sold out on the first day, requiring the chefs to stay up all night preparing food for the next day.

Sixty-one artist ensembles and community organizations participated during the Opening Weekend.

Hope without Hype

Yellowstone Art Museum and Docent Host Alzheimer's Symposium 

A two-day symposium was held at the Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Association, Montana Chapter.

The purpose was to bring the health care providers, family members and artists together to widen their understanding of Alzheimer's and related dementias and importantly the connections between the science and art. One of the hardest parts of dementia is communication. Art is one way for someone to communicate their feelings and tell their story when they have lost many other ways of communicating.

Like many art museums that serve school-age visitors, the Walters Art Museum seeks to make connections between our objects and the subjects students study in the classroom. This includes language arts, social studies, and art, but also math and science. The goals of our "Mathematical Masterpieces" tour are to help students recognize the presence and importance of math in the visual arts, understand how people in different cultures and at different times used math in creating works of art. You don't have to be a mathematician, or even very comfortable with math, to use the activities and approaches of this tour to help students – and docents – see even familiar works of art in a different way.