It’s Monday at Joslyn Art Museum. The big brass doors are closed to the public, the galleries locked tight, and the paintings allowed to ‘rest’ in dark away from eager school children, pointing fingers, and noses occasionally pressed too close for the comfort of our protection officers. Mondays are a quiet days at the Museum, right?
Not exactly. You see Mondays are docent days at the Museum—the day of the week when the lecture hall and galleries bubble with the lively conversation of 50 volunteer educators who gather, as they do every Monday, to learn, share stories, and evaluate their role as tour guides. Mondays are set aside for docent instruction, improvement, and preparation. On Mondays, docents are introduced to contemporary issues in museum education and new strategies for weaving together art-related fact with participatory teaching. On Mondays, docents discuss outstanding practices and carefully scrutinize the occasional misstep.
On Mondays, docents engage in a variety of professional development opportunities, often engaging expertise of nationally renowned museum educators, as well as local art experts and university scholars. In January, for instance, Joslyn and Sheldon Museum docents participated in an all‐day in-service with educators from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Through stimulating presentations and gallery activities, Heidi Hinish, Head of Teacher, School and Family Programs, and Elizabeth Diament, Museum and Docent Educator at NGA, shared important new trends in learner‐centered gallery teaching, and presented theoretical and practical advice for cultivating a culture of thinking in the galleries. In March, as part of their effort to understand a variety of audiences and address issues of diversity, docents welcomed special guest Alana Schriver, OPS Refugee Specialist. “Refugee Resettlement Basics: Around the World to Omaha” addressed Omaha’s current refugee and resettlement experience and highlighted important cultural differences relative to refugee populations in our area. Weeks later, docent training was facilitated by parents and educators of individuals with Special Needs. With each new topic and enrichment activity, docents are better equipped to serve every audience.
So why do they do it? Why do docents devote so much time to Joslyn Art Museum? Is it surprising to learn that last year 56 active docents conducted over 1,200 tours and served over 12,500 people? Why does the average docent spend two years in formal training and engage in continuing studies thereafter, Monday after Monday, year after year, and provide a minimum of 30 tours a year? Why do they spend countless hours every week commuting from home, walking the galleries, researching Joslyn’s permanent collections and special exhibitions? Why do these volunteers work as hard as anyone on staff, but without the paycheck?
It may be that the Monday morning conversation is as warm as the coffee, and frequent homemade pastries make getting out of bed much easier. It may have something to do with the myriad of enrichment opportunities available to docents, including art-related field trips and gallery talks arranged exclusively for them by art experts. Perhaps it is because docents recognize Joslyn for the gem that it is. Surely they know the service they provide strengthens our entire city. Could it be this unique form of service allows them to do something they’ve always wanted to do—indulge their passion for the visual arts while serving the community?
Perhaps docents do what they do because visitors recognize and appreciate their role as facilitators of wonder. Throughout the year, in the form of thank you letters and survey responses, visitors express their thanks to the docents for enabling a deeper understanding of the complexities and beauty of art. For example, when asked by their teacher what they learned on a recent visit to Joslyn Art Museum, a group of third graders responded with detailed enthusiasm…
Monet’s paintings – looks like “blobs” close up, but then you see the pictures when you back up. –Lance
It is difficult to create skin tone colors. – Jestin
In Russian Beauty, the eyes follow you because of the light. – Carly
Some paintings have to be cleaned to reveal their parts that couldn’t be seen when it was dirty with dirt because it went through lots of places. – R.J.
Some paintings are abstract and some are realistic. – Kellen
Impressionistic paintings show the artist’s view. –Tyson
Frederick Remington added emotion to his sculpture with lines. – Nathan
I really had a great time. The pictures were amazing!!! I never kewn that boys Naivte Aerimcans when they turn 13 they go on there first ever bufflo hut. Maybe my mom can take me to the Joslyn and I will probably see you again. Very truly yours, Anthony.
And we hear from teachers…
Thanks so much for the enjoyable tour we had today at Joslyn. The docents were great and very informed. I just love Joslyn! I have taken kids on field trips there for 30 years and every time I go I am amazed by the art work and what a great facility it is. I wish I lived closer – I think it would be fun to be a docent. Again thanks so much for all your work in making our day special! –Becky, K-8 Art Instructor, Manilla, Iowa
Our docent was wonderful…she used age-appropriate language and the students were very interested and engaged. Our Art Teacher was also amazing…he was very good with Kindergarten students also. We have been on the tour many times over the years and this was the best year by far! – Kindergarten Teacher, King Elementary, Omaha
Very positive. Welcoming staff. Our docent knew a lot, but she also let the kids talk a lot and give their opinions and move around. She understood kids. 🙂 Bellevue Public Schools Teacher
The tours and the visit compliment so many areas of our curriculum. We do an artist study where we learn about the artist, their styles, techniques, periods, etc. and we create art that is inspired by their work. The students really enjoy seeing pieces from the artists we study and examples of techniques we have practiced. Norm did a great job-he was very patient and knowledgeable! I learned things today I have never learned before and this is the 7th year I have gone with my students. – Second Grade Teacher, Wheeler Elementary, Omaha
Mondays at Joslyn are far from quiet. They are the busiest days, most important days, the days when docents plan, study, consider, prepare, interpret, look closely, share ideas, and simply enjoy what it means to be a docent among friends who share a commitment and desire to support the community in a beautiful, significant, artful way.
This post was written by Susie Severson, Director of Adult Programs. Susie oversees the docent training program at the Museum.