Pandemic Baby: In House Docent Magazine Connects Docents

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.

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Chasing Relevant Content

The scope of our premiere edition, nicknamed Pandemic Baby, was all about flexibility amid a shutdown. Delivered a mere three months after being approved, its cover spotlighted our docent travel coordinator at home in her garden juggling reservations for a scheduled group trip to Washington D.C. The headline asked metaphorically: Where do we go from here?

For our Milestones section, we rounded up docent gardeners who saw a silver lining in the pandemic of more time to smell the roses and tend to their flora and fauna. We shared the kindnesses of skilled seamstresses making masks for essential workers, retired doctors administering COVID tests, activists getting out the vote, all members of our docent corps and groups of our docents meeting virtually to present art and keep their touring muscles limber. A docent who is a savvy collector of contemporary art let us publish her memoire recounting her friendship with legendary San Francisco designer John Dickinson. We did a book review on Transcendence, the long-awaited monograph of American landscape painter Richard Mayhew, along with a section called Docents Recommend with tips on other books to read and Netflix series worth watching. We promoted the inaugural issue as we neared August and once it reached our community by email, the docents were blown away.

Of course, none of the content would sing without the accompanying custom art which now defines our brand. The genius behind our montages is virtuosic docent artist, Ruth Modric. She came on to craft a custom image for our first About Page — a deliciously macabre montage of a French baby doll in a store window holding a spiked corona protein toy ball with the de Young museum looming large as a backdrop. Hence the nickname Pandemic Baby was given to the magazine. Ruth joined our team as Art Director, and she continues to work closely with writers to pair her colorful montages with our stories.

Departments

Each editor oversees a department housing several articles. Milestones notes important life passages along with marking significant national events such as the 100th anniversary of the 20th amendment giving women the vote. Screen Mates shares highlights of our virtual touring programs along with photo essays on these stay at home times, using docent contributions from their various travels with themes such as Spring Break. Supplements covers what we are reading, watching, and listening to, along with book reviews on subjects such as collecting the work of black artists, the history of indigenous people in North America, and biographies of artists. Art Around Town showcases artists among us, visionaries on our radar, and noteworthy works throughout the city. Kindred Spirits encompasses everything from the success of virtual access tours bonding the guides drawn to reaching the most vulnerable during these times, to a fun piece on docent married couples in our docent community. I manage Tricks of the Trade, gathering tips on themes such as calming touring jitters or how docents with theatrical pasts use their skills to entertain their tour groups. 

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Features

Our winter cover was a homerun with the stars of our Art Talks program front and center. Their slide show presentations are keeping us in the game amid shutdowns by adapting the popular program of bringing exhibits to libraries, clubs, and various civic groups to a virtual platform. We also profiled Renée Dreyfus, PhD, Distinguished Curator and Curator in Charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, who is currently installing The Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, keeping the exhibition viable during more than a year of delay. We heard from immigrants among us and long-haulers using art to help cope with symptoms. Actress Julia Mayne described her most challenging role to date as an art docent. She shared she had never met an African American docent in recounting what lured her to our program.

Mapping Out Future Issues after Reopening

In going forward, we’ve decided to reduce our publications from quarterly issues to two a year, while slimming down the size of articles. We have hit the jackpot in terms of community involvement with 105 individual docents contributing to the magazine’s first three issues. As always, we receive guidance from the docents on our advisory team who continue to be thought leaders, weighing in on promoting our issues and aiding our production.

This project has taken extraordinary dedication as it became clear it required our full attention for weeks at a time while developing each issue. Each editor wears many hats, writing all copy that’s not farmed out and proofing and formatting their pages. What started out as a cottage industry with my photographer husband helping with portraits and my daughter, a published fiction writer, standing in as literary editor, has emerged a slick and sophisticated, visually rich, seasonal publication. Our devoted creative team finds delivering Pandemic Baby is truly a labor of love. It takes a village to overcome adversity. We are grateful to be among the art-loving scribes chronicling the journey.

Luanne Sanders Andreotti, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, docent to docent, has worked in broadcast news as a writer and reporter for CNN and CBS, and as an arts writer and editor for national magazines and newspapers.

For more details on how to launch your own docent magazine, see this tip sheet or contact Luanne Andreotti at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.