A photo from graduation day of our Landmark Docent class. The Docent Class of 2013 will begin leading tours this March.

A photo from graduation day of our Landmark Docent class. The Docent Class of 2013 will begin leading tours this March.

Inspiration from the Docent Class of 2013

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I was privileged to be part of the interview process for applicants to the Docent Class of 2012-2013. I say “privilege” because I had the pleasure of meeting many thoughtful people who had exciting things to say about art and working with the public. In the notes I took I circled some of their comments that I want to share with others in the new class and with current docents alike. I think they serve to give us fresh perspectives and insights into what we do. Following is simply a compendium of these observations, and remember, these comments came from people who aren’t docents yet!

Question: What are some of the qualities of a good docent?

“Docents should lead visitors to questions.”
“Docents should allow visitors their own experiences”
“Docents should create a comfortable context at the outset of the tour, helping the visitors to feel that they belong here, that they’re part of the ‘club’.”
“Docents build a bridge with the community.”
“A good docent allows visitors to feel accepted.”
“The docent adds interest to information.”
“I want to create interest beyond the tour, communicate that art is part of life.”

Question: What techniques would you us to encourage discussion among visitors?

“I would ask if there’s anything unusual in the work that a visitor wants to ask about.”
“If there’s no participation, I would ask for a description of what they see.”
“I would remember that the response of the docent —even body language—is important.”
“I would encourage the visitors to keep looking.”
“I would try an emotional hook.”

Question: What do teaching and learning mean to you?

“Teaching is about allowing people to have their own communication with art. It is a form of communion between people who may have nothing in common except what’s in front of them.”

Question: What would you do if you were asked a question and didn’t know the answer?

”I would ask if anyone else in the group has the information. Maybe as a group we can figure it out.”

Question: In our technological age, why visit a museum when you can see art online?

“The museum visit allows an experience of an environment. The visit lets us break out of our comfort zone and be part of a community.”
“A computer can only give us a picture of a picture.”
“The museum allows a face-to-face experience with art.”

Random thoughts:

“Art allows a greater understanding of our humanity—it’s liberating.”
“The museum should be an approachable culture.”
“All you have to do is look at art, but you have to look.”

This should be a great class, and add a dynamic group of people to our docent cadre. I’m excited!


Sarah Blackman is currently a docent at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and is involved there in creating new kinds of tours and teaching workshops as well. For the last 15 years she had been a jewelry designer who makes one-of-a-kind statement necklaces by hand.