Every Wednesday at 2 p.m., one of the museum’s 24 active docents leads a tour of the permanent and temporary exhibition galleries. Volunteers range from students to retirees but share a love of art and people. Although no formal experience is required, volunteers are required to go through an application and interview process, and typically maintain a personal interest in art. They then make a minimum two-year commitment to represent the museum by giving tours, among other activities. The first year consists solely of a training program that continues throughout their relationship with the docent program. During this first year, volunteers learn tour techniques, shadow experienced docents and eventually practice their own tours. Because tours bring in a variety of visitors, this time and practice allow docents to be flexible enough to alter and adjust tours to suit the visitors’ needs.
Julia Sanks, a veteran docent at the museum, quickly realized that a small group of two young boys and their mother would appreciate a different approach to the typical “Tour at Two” than a larger, adult audience. Sanks smoothly set her more in-depth notes aside and engaged the young visitors by asking them to verbalize their responses and observations. After close to 11 years of affiliation with the museum, Sanks is comfortable molding herself to the needs of her audience.
“I’ve been here for around 11 years, but all docents, including myself, have to commit to training every week; there is always more to learn,” said Sanks.
Docents don’t always wait for visitors to come to the museum. Docents participate in “suitcase tours,” an outreach program that caters to grades K-3 in the Athens-Clarke County area. These programs consist of volunteers literally packing up a suitcase of art reproductions, games and interactive activities to evoke students’ interest in art. On a more social level, some docents also choose to participate in the docent book club, which meets once a month to discuss books relating to art and art history. Both activities reflect the heart of the program, which consists of a love of art and a desire to share it.
For students interested in becoming docents, Carissa DiCindio, curator of education, will be teaching the special topics course ARED 5230/7230:Engaging Art Museum Audiences as Student Docents in the fall. The course will not only focus on the museum’s collections, but also on the complexities of art interpretation and how to facilitate interaction and dialogue within tours. The one-year commitment for students includes a semester of training within the course and a semester of participation at the museum. The special topics course will frequently be held in the galleries to encourage comfort and familiarity with the collection.
Those interested in becoming a student or community docent should visit the GMOA website for more information: http://georgiamuseum.org/give/volunteer.