More Docent News

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

Jessica Gaynor, Chair-Elect, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Docent Council (Fall 2021)

Little did we know how much we missed each other and our connection to our museum, until one day, no, actually, one year, we had to do without. This is the story of how the docents at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) stayed connected not only with one another, but with docents in museums all over our country.

MMFA article July 2021 
Louise Gauvreau and Louise Émond, Guides, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

As the pandemic halted many museum activities earlier this year, MMFA Guides continued, through Zoom, their weekly onsite training and workshops for their nearly 200 active Guides. For the past few years the Guides have used a dialogical approach, or open-ended questions, to encourage visitors to interact with guides about the art. Research shows that we retain more information when we are actively involved in an activity.

Image 1 editorial teamThe editorial team of docent to docent magazine meeting on Zoom to brainstorm content: Left to Right: Docents Carolyn Galbreath, Steve Luppino, Luanne Andreotti (editor-in-chief), Pam Reed, Marty Johnson, Randee MacDonald, Ruth Modric.

Luanne Andreotti, Docent, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Spring 2021)

The Birth Story

Fostering personal connection among our 210 active docents and 107 supporting docents was the goal of our digital magazine start-up. It was conceived at the start of the pandemic by me and an advisory team of former FAMSF Docent executive council chairs. Along with touring, we knew docents missed the social aspect of lunches in the cafes after lectures, in-person parties, and travel to other museums. A receptive docent executive counsel applauded our vision and allocated docent funds for a website developer. We collaborated with the indispensable designer, settling on templates, fonts, colors, and images. The format of docent to docent was set by early June 2020. As a magazine writer and editor with experience, I was charged with leading a full production crew of docents. I recruited a team of novice editors including three detail-oriented former attorneys, none of whom had previously been involved in publishing, not to mention online publications. In shifting gears seamlessly, these adaptable and resourceful colleagues have clearly demonstrated the FAMSF organizational mantra: Be Flexible.

Joe Romito, Docent, National Air and Space Museum (Spring 2021)

From the moment the pandemic led to the shutdown of all Smithsonian Institution facilities in March 2020, docents at the National Air and Space Museum began looking forward to the day when they could return to doing what they do best: talk with visitors about the museum’s tremendous collection of air and space artifacts, and tell the stories of the people and events associated with those artifacts. Thanks to innovative thinking and a lot of hard work by museum staff and the docents themselves, Air and Space docents were able to resume their docent duties in September with the initiation of the museum’s Virtual Volunteer Artifact Station Program.

Lee Rubinstein, Docent, J. Paul Getty Museum (Spring 2021)

If I had my life to do over again, I would do some things differently. Instead of minoring in Art History, I would have majored in it, and then I would have set my sights on curating as a career.

To satisfy my interest in curation I took a college class entitled Gallery Management. There were many interesting assignments; the class made a floor plan of the college’s art gallery, helped hang a guest artist’s show, as well as planned the student art show. The mid-term assignment was to design a mini-catalogue for an art show with selections of our choice focusing on any period of art. I immediately decided on the Dutch Golden Age and my show was entitled “Dutch Treat: Holland’s Golden Age of Painting and the Rise of the Middle Class.” I was in my comfort zone!

Shelagh Barrington, Gallery Guide, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); NDSC Regional Director, Canada (Spring 2021)

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has been closed to the public since March 2020. As a result, AGO Leadership and the Board of Directors have asked many staff members to redeploy their talents to produce virtual programs for the community. There are daily virtual junior school programs, virtual art classes for adults, online groups focused on young adults and sessions for Moms at home with toddlers. Gallery guides applaud the effort to keep our incredibly talented staff employed, both for compassionate reasons and for the health of the gallery now and in the forever-changed future. But where does that leave the AGO Gallery Guides? Unfortunately, in limbo!  But we are resourceful and social, so we are keeping it together!

DMA composite photo

Carol Resnick, Docent, Dallas Museum of Art (Spring 2021)

In the fall of 2019, Head Docents Jode Johnson and Kristin McCollum of the Dallas Museum of Art held a docent-only meeting discussing ways to improve the program. From this meeting came the idea of a database of information on objects in the Museum using Google Docs. The DMA is an encyclopedic museum housing over 25,000 objects, and docents are expected to be able to give tours of all galleries and exhibitions. The head docents realized their best resource for the database was the docents themselves, some who have toured at the Museum for over 30 years. A database committee was created to determine which of the Museum’s many pieces they would begin with. Then they proceeded to develop a format to encourage consistency with the entries, and finally they came up with a plan as to how they would structure the rollout. Over 100 pieces were selected, and a template was provided for the docents to follow. 

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).

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