Staying Connected with a Docent Share-a-thon

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.

Participating Docents chose an artwork from the Museum’s permanent collection, downloaded the Mini DRG template, and started building. People quickly got creative, adding, for example, links to the artist’s website, photos of the artist’s other works, and images of other artworks that would contextualize the style, the movement or the time frame of the artwork in question.

NDSC Shareathon pic

See this Mini DRG for Cocina con Vista al Viaducto by artist Elena Climent

According to many Docents, the golden nuggets found in the submitted DRGs were the lists of touring and engagement tips. Like many docents around the country, PhxArt Docents are encouraged to use artworks as triggers for interactive conversations with our guests, and we’re always on the lookout for creative ways to do that. Here are a select few conversational prompts from a variety of Share-a-thon submissions:
• Look closely. Let’s decide on characteristics that make the animals look wild or make the animals look tame.
• Walk all the way around the structure, inside and out. Where do you feel most comfortable standing? What can you see when you stand in that spot?
• Many people wonder if fashion is art. What do you think? A friend of mine describes fashion as “soft sculpture.” Would you agree?
• Pretend you are outside lying on your back, staring up at the clouds in this painting. Using your imagination, what do you see?
• If you could time travel back to 1760, and you could sit with Doña Maria while sipping hot chocolate, what questions would you ask her? What questions might she ask you?

By the end of the Share-a-thon in late July, 33 Mini DRGs had been submitted and uploaded on the Phoenix Art Museum Docent website, where they are now available as research for any Docent’s use. Several Docents even chose to present the highlights of their Mini DRGs, with an accompanying slide show and conversation, over Zoom!

All who participated in any way with the Share-a-thon were happy to have done so. Kraft summarizes our experience: “The event was a total success during COVID, keeping us in tune with one another. The whole Docent body also wins in that we now have a treasure trove of information to bring many of our beloved artworks alive for guests once the Museum opens again.”

Click here to view another sample Mini DRG.