Docents Dive Deep: Tiny Tours @ The Meadows

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. 

Tiny Tours works because of its simplicity. Docents record a 3- to 5-minute talk using the Voice Memos app on their personal smartphone. They email the audio files along with their script to education staff. To ensure accuracy and alignment with the museum’s curatorial vision, content is vetted by curatorial staff and rerecording occurs when necessary. Education staff uses iMovie to create a video pairing the docent’s audio with a simple pan across the work of art.

Docents sign-up for Tiny Tours in the same way they would sign-up to lead an in-gallery tour; rather than assigning works of art to docents, education staff feels it important for docents to be able to select the works that they feel most passionate about addressing. Each docent emails their selection to staff to avoid duplicates. Each docent develops their own script that is due, along with the audio, one week before the scheduled date of their Tiny Tour being posted on the museum’s social media channels. Museum staff uses the written scripts to aid in captioning the videos for increased accessibility.

Several weeks into the initiative, a docent volunteered to translate Tiny Tours into Spanish and Visitas cortitas was launched. Bilingual docents submit their Tiny Tour audio and scripts in both English and Spanish while scripts by monolingual docents are sent to a Spanish-speaking docent for translation and recording. Spanish-speaking curatorial staff review the Visitas cortitas audio for rerecording suggestions. Just like the English versions, the Spanish audio is then paired with the image pan. This simple and quick video production allows the museum to create and release a Tiny Tours video and its sister Visitas cortitas video at the same time in most cases. The museum posts a Tiny Tours and Visitas cortitas video every Friday on its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Additionally, the video playlists can be found on the museum’s YouTube channel.

The Meadows Museum plans to continue producing these videos through at least the end of 2020, creating a growing video library that can now serve several purposes. First, these videos engage the public while the museum remains closed or open at limited capacity. Additionally, the videos will serve as resources for university and K-12 students learning in either physical or virtual classroom spaces next academic year. Third, Tiny Tours and Visitas cortitas will help docents as they develop tours when the museum is able to offer in-person tours again. And, finally, the museum will use these talks as a starting point for a new mobile tour currently under development. This mobile tour will be available in lieu of docent-guided tours until the museum can safely accommodate in-person tours again.

On reflecting on her involvement in Tiny Tours, d ocent Janet Lumpkin shared that the initiative allowed her to “focus on a favorite work, do some research, and sing!” Docent Maria Lahiri said:I think Tiny Tours are a wonderful opportunity through which docents can continue to engage with the public and share our museum’s art during this pandemic when so many of us are staying at home. I loved being a part of this initiative; creating the voiceover enabled me to have a better appreciation for the artwork and the artist.

Through Tiny Tours and Visitas cortitas, the Meadows Museum has found a way to keep their docent corps engaged during their time away from the museum and is continuing to provide an opportunity for its docents to bring Spanish art to the public in an online world.