In the News: Volunteer Appreciation Week

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

The past year has forced us all to adapt and learn new skills, and that includes our fabulous volunteer docents! We usually rely on our docents to lead in-person tours for visiting school groups, but with the switch to a virtual format, Katy and I have handled our “live” virtual tours ourselves. So, what’s a dedicated docent to do? Although their usual role as tour guides is highly visible, we’ve kept meeting and put them to work behind-the-scenes! Since this week is National Volunteer Week, which occurs annually the third week of April, we’re taking this opportunity to spotlight the work our docents continue to do and thank them for their continued dedication.

Docent Susan Elser leads a tour of young children through Heather Day's exhibition last winter.
Docent Susan Elser leading the last tour before we shut down in March 2020. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

As the education department sought to bolster our digital resources during this era of distance learning, the docents were eager to help. First, we asked them to record themselves reading picture books (dropped on porches). Some have been featured here on the blog! When the Learning Center reopened last July, we decided not to put any actual books out in the reading corner–too difficult to disinfect–but made the videos available on an iPad so the docents can read to our young visitors.

Where we’ve really put the docents to work, though, is through self-guided virtual tours. They, like everyone else, were looking for ways to keep busy while staying home; we were happy to enlist their service. For selected exhibitions starting with By Women last summer, each docent chose an artwork to research in more depth; created a short, downloadable resource sheet about it; lead a discussion on it during a docent meeting; and, finally, recorded a “tour stop” video as if they were leading a tour in-person. We’re currently working on tours for Bold Assemblage and  A Century of Making Meaning, which will be live on the website alongside the others soon (click on “Self-Guided Virtual Tours” here:

Docent Michael Greene leads elementary students on a tour of the museum.
Docent Michael Greene leads students through Julian and Barbara Stanczak’s exhibition last year. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Docents volunteer for myriad reasons, but among the most important for many of them is the face-to-face interaction with the children who visit, often for the first time. A big part of our job as educators is to ensure that the first experience with the museum is positive and leaves them feeling equipped, motivated, and with some sense of belonging–the museum is here for everyone, and we “museum people” want to grow our ranks! It speaks volumes to the docents’ dedication that they have stayed on and helped us produce this content, the results of which they don’t get to see. While they’re all comfortable in front of a crowd of second graders, getting in front of a camera was a different story for many (myself included). We’ve asked the docents to become researchers and TV personalities, to use Zoom for meetings, and to produce educational resources. They didn’t exactly sign up for these roles, but are committed to serving the museum’s young audience however they can, and–I hope–have enjoyed putting new skills to work while learning about new art and artists. 

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? Now is a perfect time to join! As we anticipate a hopeful return to in-person programming next year, we’ll be doing some intensive training over the summer to get back into peak tour-guiding shape. Fill out the short form here to tell us a bit about yourself and get on the list to receive more information about this opportunity: 

Docent Barb Young-Miller gets up close to a Julian Stanczak painting with a group of school students on a tour.
Docent Barb Young-Miller leads students through Julian and Barbara Stanczak’s exhibition last year. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

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