By Mary Hubbard, Class of 2011
From my viewpoint, docent training has been about three things: first, art; second, people; and third, the puzzle of how to bring those two together in an engaging and enriching way. Of course, art has been the essential starting point of our learning enterprise, but even those of us who were accepted into the docent program (and already knew the Museum owned many beautiful works) didn’t realize how vast the permanent collection actually is. We were astounded to learn than only about 10% of what the Museum owns is ever on display at any one time. The treasure trove is huge, and we’ve had an exhilarating time exploring parts of it.
In addition, we’ve learned that without museum-goers, works of art are inert objects displayed in a handsome building. Thankfully, the Education Department staff has helped us “see” many pieces with fresh eyes. They’ve helped us acquire a kind of double-vision: the full-bodied, well-informed X-ray vision that curators have (and have willingly shared with us), and the deer-in-the-headlights perspective that many visitors can have (and that most of us did have when we entered a museum for the first time). Slowly but surely, we’re learning how to navigate between the two. It isn’t that we’ll ever know it all (we won’t ever be as knowledgeable as the curators, that’s for sure); but with persistence, we can learn how to be co-adventurers with the Museum’s visitors, trading roles as both students and teachers along the way. And if we do our job well, everyone will enjoy the experience.
Among the multiple benefits of joining the docent program has been welcoming new people into our lives – the visitors we’ve observed and learned from, the fellow docents we’ve come to know and respect, the staff who’ve inspired and trained us. Unlike some groups, we hail from many different backgrounds, share different faiths, align with different political parties, inhabit different walks of life. In any other circumstance, we would never meet. What has brought us together is that we’re all interested in art, and we believe that it has much to teach us – about ourselves and others. I don’t think any of us would trade being a docent for any other experience.