More Docent News

Sharing Ideas and Experience - Be a Resource for your fellow docents!  

Liz O'Brien, Docent, Phoenix Art Museum (September 2020)

Many Phoenix Art Museum Docents found a win-win strategy for occupying themselves during the coronavirus pandemic this summer while serving the Museum’s greater touring and outreach Docent corps. The answer was Mini Docent Research Guides (Mini DRGs).

Mini DRGs were devised as a do-at-home spinoff of our more involved Docent Research Guide, where Docents can serve the Museum by writing an in-depth, peer-reviewed research guide on an artwork of their choice. Docents Alice Kraft and Jane Pettibone came up with the idea of the mini version in April of 2020 as a way to engage touring Docents who were now stuck at home. The idea caught fire and Mini DRGs started pouring in. The project, dubbed the Share-a-thon, was such a success that ringleader Kraft opened participation up to all Docents a few weeks later.

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.

Nevada walls

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.

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