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Docents help keep Art Museum connected to community

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Art Museum at MSU (formerly the Kresge Art Museum) may have gotten a new name but the caliber of knowledgeable volunteers remains the same.

For 25 years, the museum has hosted a docent program. The docents are a group of volunteers that give tours and engage the community about the museum’s art and exhibitions. The volunteers are very well versed in the information they are presenting each season.

“(The docents) are more than regular volunteers,” said Cari Wolfe, the museum’s assistant education curator. “They’re a great group of people. It is so much volunteer time and you can always count on them.”

The docents engage school-age children in tours and facilitate dialogue to enhance their learning experience. The museum trains new docents every even year. The program is 9 months long and the volunteers go through art history lessons, interact with seasoned docents, give various tours and observe other trainees tours. By the end of the 9 months, “they are very, very prepared,” Wolfe said.

Some docents have a fine arts background, while some are just lovers of the arts. Wolfe said that all docents usually have a passion for art and visual culture. The program is unique because it was started by 2 volunteers who wanted to bring the community to the museum. Now, 25 years later, the docent program helps bring tours to over two thousand children each year.

Another responsibility of the museums docents is facilitating community outreach. They travel to assisted living and retirement homes in the community and present a PowerPoint presentation of current exhibitions, give lectures, and engage the residents in meaningful conversation about art. Wolfe said it is a rewarding outreach project for the docents and elders alike. Docents have reported that seeing the presentations have conjured up memories for the elderly residents and has enabled them to reminisce in memories of the past.

Other community outreach projects the docents facilitate are the Capital Area Youth Alliance Family Fun Fair and the East Lansing Art Fair. At both events the volunteers run booths to generate interest about the museum.

“It’s good to step out of the museum and into the public,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes people feel apprehensive about coming into the museum, they feel like they need to already know something about the art.”

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