Creating a Docent "Curator's Club"

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!

The final exam was to curate an exhibit. I was very excited even with challenging specifications: it had to have at least 75 pieces selected from a location anywhere in the world that was not a museum or gallery, and it had to be all living artists. I was now completely out of my comfort zone.  

I decided to accept the challenge. For a couple of weeks, I stewed over a theme. I considered, and discarded, many options. Finally, in the middle of the night, it hit me. I would call it “Tossed and Found” and would focus on art made from recycled materials. The research took about two months and I really got into it. I was still tweaking it the night before the presentation was due.

The presentation was a huge success, and the professor has used it for the last couple of years as an example of a model presentation, I’m quite proud of that. Most of all I was able to do something that scared me, and it helped me grow.

Last summer during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to keep busy, stay connected and keep up my research skills. Why not try something that I would never get to do in my career; I decided to live the life of a curator vicariously. Of course, these kinds of things are much more fun when others participate so I presented the idea to the National Docents Forum Facebook group. I figured if eight to ten people were interested, I’d be thrilled. Almost 50 people agreed it was a great idea and the Curator’s Club was born! We decided to get together on Zoom, and I wrote up some guidelines to help navigate the curatorial assignment. It did not take long before several people began selecting themes which were as varied as our docents. How about “Revival of the Fittest: An Overview of Western Decorative Arts Styles from the 19th Century,” or “Identity: Changes in Portraits of Children, 1800-2000?”. We have already enjoyed two presentations that I personally believe would impress even professional curators, “Voices for the Millennium: Political and Environmental Responses Through Art,” and “Looking at Visual Art Through the Sound of Music.”

The scope of the Curator’s Club has also expanded. We plan on reading books with subject matter that is more technical than something you might read in a regular book group such as the history of frames or why paintings are titled as they are.

The Curator’s Club may have initially been my secret desire, but it has become a place for an exchange of ideas, a creative outlet, and a real source of connection for the many docents I am proud to call new friends. Currently, to ensure that everyone can participate, this first iteration of Curator’s Club is limited to 50 people. I would be happy to start Curator’s Club, Part Deux if there was sufficient interest. Or, if fellow Forum members are interested in starting their own docent-related discussion group, please email your idea to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I believe in the power of connection and the idea that education is not something that stops because of age…or even a pandemic. As Michealangelo Buonarroti once opined, “I am still learning.”