Audience Engagement

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY

In order to attract and retain young visitors, many museums now promote events such as Friday night wine parties, yoga classes in galleries and high-energy group tours conducted by third-party tour guides. One such group, called Museum Hack, advertise their tours as a "highly interactive, subversive, fun, non-traditional museum tour." They also rely heavily on social media. This lively Breakout Session will compare established docent techniques to these new, pumped-up experiences. Docents will get out on the floor, practice improvisational skills, try out hands-on activities, incorporate social media, play gallery games and look for ways to wake up, refresh and energize tours.

Presenter: Meg Gianetti

Theme Category: Touring Techniques

Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ

In this session docents will explore techniques to encourage visitor participation. The strategies include: slow looking, engaging all five senses, creating dialogue for the character(s) portrayed, vocabulary-building through poems and word games, using paintings to tell a story, and making personal connections to non-text artworks as a means of building writing skills, among others. Also, the presenters will describe the 10-minute training sessions the museum has created to encourage fellow docents at the Princeton University Art Museum to introduce new exercises or activities into their tours.

Presenters: Allegra D'Adamo and Sandy Kurinsky

Theme Category: Touring Techniques

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Washington, DC

Presenters from Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens will share their docent organizational strategies, called frameworks, for creating engaging and focused tours of decorative arts collections. In this session, docents will discover how the estate-collection-collector framework can organize a tour's "big picture." Additionally, docents will find out about how the style-function-production framework can organize a docent's understanding of decorative art objects and the people connected to them. Session participants will explore how the frameworks can create a sound, reliable structure for communicating with visitors, and connect decorative arts objects to the stories about the people who owned, used, and created them.

Presenters: Audra Kelly and Lisa Leyh

Theme Category: Touring Techniques


Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO

The Denver Art Museum's (DAM) commitment to contemporary art and the practice of combining historical and cutting-edge art throughout the permanent collections has prepared DAM docents to address the unique challenges of presenting modern and contemporary art to museum visitors. This Breakout Session will address touring techniques for abstract, provocative and electronic art and how these art forms can be used to engage teen and at-risk youth audiences. Handouts will be provided and a group discussion at the end of the presentation will give participants a chance to share successful touring strategies they have used.

Presenters: Carol Hamilton, Marty Corren and Nikki Tomkinson

Theme Category: Touring Techniques

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

Participants will learn about an innovative gallery teaching strategy developed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art that focuses on audience-centered facilitation, not docent-centered lecturing. The presenters will share a framework that consists of three tour components (Inventory, Activity, and Collection Connection), where visitors are taken on a personal journey of discovery that builds on their past experiences. The framework can be applied to all ages and galleries. This session will be of great benefit to docents who wish to develop audience-centered strategies for their own tours.

Presenters: Barbara Schoell and Kathi Toombs

Theme Category: Touring Techniques

Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC

Docents use hands-on objects to create and deepen connections with art in the galleries for visitors of all ages. The presentation will describe the Freer|Sackler hands-on collection and its day-to-day management, and will include an interactive teaching session using sample objects to answer the question, "Why use hands-on materials?" Participants will leave with ideas for building, maintaining, and using a hands-on collection at their own museum.

Presenters: Betsy Vourlekis, docent (seven years) and Chair of the Hands-On Committee; Sarah Linton, docent (seven years) and immediate past Chair of the Hands-On Committee; Hillary Rothberg, Education Specialist (four years) and Education Staff Liaison to the Hands-On Committee

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami FL

In 2008 Vizcaya Museum and Gardens developed an inquiry-based general introductory tour and began formally training docents in museum education, methodology, tour content, and facilitation techniques. Our session will share how a dedicated and determined group of docents supported the transition from offering lecture-based tours to facilitating more meaningful and memorable experiences for our visitors. Presenters will highlight how incorporating best practices from the field of museum education (training, shorter tours, evaluation implementation and docent partnering), was instrumental in successfully supporting the institution through a challenging process.

Presenters: Jo Mobley, docent (thirteen years), School Program Guide, and Mentor; Graciela Cordeiro, docent (fifteen years) and School Program Guide; Sharon Hartley, docent (twenty-six years), School Program Guide, and Mentor; Kathy Heinly, docent (twelve years), School Program Guide, and Mentor

Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, British Columbia

The docents of the Museum of Anthropology will share their innovative approach to using untapped museum assets. "The Museum as Muse" focuses on the iconic architecture of the Museum building and challenges students to develop their creative thinking. Designed for middle and high school students, this program aligns with art, drafting, and computer design curricula. Participants will leave the session with the necessary tools to design their own unique programs.

Presenters: Jill Baird, Curator of Education and Public Programs (works alongside a committed group of Volunteer Associates to deliver Education programs); Sheila Carnahan, Gallery Guide and member of the Education Committee; Marilyn Bild, Gallery Guide and Co-chair of the Education Committee

The Dalí Museum, Saint Petersburg, Florida

This session will present an overview of new Dalí docent initiatives that have transformed a struggling program into a flexible model for engagement of visitors and docents. The Dalí has cultivated themed tours and established new perspectives on familiar works through such avenues as science, math, and religion. The Dalí will share the details of its docent training, its incorporation of new curricula and student participation, its teen docent program, the revamping of its junior docent program, the creation of the Dalí Docent Resource website, and the posting of all training lectures on its YouTube channel to keep information fresh and interesting. Come and learn from Dalí in the Details.

Presenters: Peter Tush, Curator of Education, and has worked at the Dali for twenty-five years Junior Docents, Teen Docents, Dali Science lecture series); Jay Boda, docent and co-creator of the online Dalí Docent Manual.


Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY 

Docents need to win groups over immediately and maintain positive relationships with them throughout their tours. The first half of this session will offer tour tips, strategies, and techniques that are applicable in most cultural institutions. The second half will involve docent-centered role-playing activities that are both humorous and enlightening. Think you've seen and done it all as a docent? We might surprise you! Please join us for a lively, entertaining, and informative session on docent "best practices."

Presenters: Mary Marino Kozub, docent (five years) and Burchfield PenneyArt Center Museum Educator and Tour Manager (over four years) and a docent at the Albright Knox (five years); Mary G. Therrien, docent (five years; has led a wide variety of school, corporate, and special-needs tours)

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