by Courtney Henson, Visitor Services Manager
St. Louis Art Museum docents are amazing. For two full years the dedicated group has been planning and coordinating a huge effort: Hosting the 2011 National Docent Symposium. Over the past three days, docents from national museums have been in St. Louis and taking notes on the volunteer programs at multiple institutions here. There were guest speakers who rallied the group and breakout sessions that delved into wide ranging topics on how to assist your institution with the visitor viewing experience. “Docent”, “volunteer”, “gallery educator”. These are just a few of the names given at various institutions to the people who volunteer their time to help guests experience art. The Pulitzer had the great honor to co-host a dinner with CAM for about 100 docents and to run a workshop highlighting our Exploring Art program.
I learned that the bulk of the docents from all over the United States and Canada had backgrounds as educators. They were not always art teachers and certainly not even always a traditional teacher, but their passion for education led them to pursue docenting. It became very clear that the job of a docent has changed over the past ten years, but each docent’s personal desire to encourage learning has evolved his/her process for interaction in the galleries. There seems to be a direct move away from didactic tours that are directly scripted and instead to engage the guests in conversations about the work. This is the approach taken at the Pulitzer.
For our current exhibition we are trying something a little different. We are bringing together Buddhist practitioners and our PFA docents on the Mezzanine on the third and fourth Saturday’s of the month for a couple of hours in the afternoon. In Exploring Buddhism and Art , there are two minds for our guests to pick, one with expertise on the culture of Buddhism and one with expertise on the art and architecture of the Pulitzer.
In 2013, the National Docent Symposium will be held in California, and I personally look forward to investigating how that city and the gathered docents have evolved their styles at that time. It was a truly rewarding experience to explain the Pulitzer’s methods as well as share ideas from around the country