Annually, hundreds of groups comprised of K-12 schools, community organizations, and university classes visit the Blanton. We hope these visitors come with a measure of curiosity and a desire to explore, and we expect them to leave changed in some way, perhaps possessing a better understanding of themselves and others, inspired by the limitless possibilities of human creativity on view in the galleries. This thirst for exploration is nurtured by the Blanton’s volunteer docents, a fantastic group which includes artists, educators, business professionals, students, faculty members, mothers, fathers—women and men representing the surrounding, vibrant Austin city area. Here at the Blanton, docents are teachers who generously give of their time to help visitors enjoy a meaningful experience, and the galleries are classrooms, where each work of art has the potential show us something new about the world, each other, and ourselves.
Throughout the academic year, Blanton docents participate in continuous training to prepare them for working with the broad range of groups who visit the museum. Between one and two sessions are scheduled monthly, covering topics such as teaching methods for school groups, led by our Museum Educator for K12 Audiences Andrea Saenz Williams, and special exhibition training for new shows at the museum, such as In the Company of Cats and Dogs, led on June 23rd by curator Francesca Consagra and graduate intern Douglas Cushing. In keeping with the model we promote for group visitors—that the best learning happens in front of the works of art—we host as many of our training sessions in the galleries as possible.
To give us a more personal insight into the process of docent training at the Blanton, Iris Cahill, Coordinator of Docents and Tours, asked three of our newest docents who recently underwent a rigorous year of preparation between September 2013 and May 2014 to share some of their thoughts.
One of my goals in retirement was to be a Blanton docent so I could combine my passion for teaching with my love of art. However, just because I’m a teacher by training and I love art didn’t immediately change me in to a docent who could conduct a tour. That took the Blanton’s talented education staff. Our training, which is ongoing, is interesting and always thought provoking. My favorite training takes place in the galleries where we can sit in front of a work and drink it in. We learn about the art itself while also exploring techniques that teach us and our audiences to look deeply, responding to the art without demanding a specific answer. Because of these techniques, my viewing of art has changed, becoming deeper and more rewarding for me, and I try to pass that along to the groups I take on tours.
I give tours to all age groups. My favorites are the school children because they tend to ask more questions than adults. This summer I’ve done Storytime with younger children, which is an interesting challenge because the books that are used have to be loosely matched to a work of art. The big thing I’ve learned while working with younger children is they are quite accepting of abstract art and love to look at the colors and brushstrokes in the paintings. Each tour, no matter what age, is always different, many times rewarding and usually fun.
I love art. I enjoy the docent program because of the opportunity it affords me to interact with others surrounding works of art. I am most appreciative of the opportunity to glean knowledge from the tours that are led by the curators at the Blanton Museum. Initially, my most memorable experience and favored exhibition was Lifelike. Now, my favorite has changed. It changed because of the tour of In the Company of Cats and Dogs. This training session, led by curator Francesca Consagra, was exceptional and most memorable. She uses a beautiful technique that lulls you while she is speaking. Her narrative gives you the sensation that she is caressing the works as she engages and interacts with the audience while discussing a selected piece of art. After she moves to another piece of art, I am left savoring the prior discussion while I attempt to absorb all of the information that she has provided. I am sure that I am not the only trainee who longs to mature to the level of Francesca in discussing art.
The group training sessions are an asset to the program. I am particularly fond of the in-gallery sessions because they are fun and thought provoking. I very much enjoy the research pursuit while preparing for a tour as well as completing the tour outline. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I lead a successful tour, and I appreciate the support, the understanding, and the availability of the managers and of the directors for this program during our training challenges. It is hard to believe that in September, we will have participated in this program for one year. I am so proud that many of us have led many tours. We appreciate that the management have enough faith in us to allow us to transition through our own metamorphosis.
It seemed only natural for me to be interested in becoming a docent. I enjoy people and love art. I was delighted when I was selected to be in the 2013 training program at the Blanton.
The training involves learning about the collection from the knowledgeable curators. We regularly have great lectures about various works of art in the collection and from special exhibits. We each do our own research from the resource room organized just for docents. This room is full of books and papers written by curators and past docents about the works owned by the Blanton.
The education staff has taught us many things, one of them is how to address groups of adults and children using current techniques, like visual thinking skills. It has been really fulfilling to engage the children in a conversation about art using this technique. I was amazed at how many school groups and summer programs tour the Blanton.
There is great support from the experienced docents and we newbies help each other when we can. I always look forward to my assignments and training sessions. This has been a wonderful experience for me.
For more information on the Blanton docent program or to schedule a guided visit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.