Not only do the Museum docents provide more than 12,000 hours of service to the Museum annually, through leading tours, conducting research on the artworks and exhibitions, preparing their presentations, and attending trainings, but they are also committed to the educational mission of the institution in multiple ways. Docents are on the front lines of the Museum and they see firsthand the trends in visitor attendance and demographics. “As docents, we noticed a significant decline in student tours of the Museum,” explains Kay Hanlin, Master Docent and Chair of Docent Bus Fund Endowment Committee. “The economy’s downturn resulted in the reduction or elimination of funds for art-related programs, including field trips, in many of our local schools. While admission to our museum is free, transportation for students is not.” Realizing that high transportation costs were directly correlated to fewer tours, the BMA docent corps decided in 2011 to begin raising money for a bus fund endowment to defray the costs of bus transportation.
The Museum offers carefully-designed, curriculum-based tours for students that enhance learning and correspond to the Alabama Course of Study and the Core Curriculum. We know, however, that not all teachers and students can take advantage of these free educational field trips. The docents set an ambitious goal to help alleviate this growing problem. They agreed to raise $25,000 within three years to meet the endowment requirements. As 2013 drew to a close in December, the fund topped that amount – a full six months before the deadline. The funds came from docent donations, gifts in honor of docents, memorials to docents, and from donations for the book The First Fifty Years of the Birmingham Museum of Art by Margaret Livingston, a BMA board of director’s member and former docent. Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, the Museum will be able to provide 10 buses a year from the interest earned on this endowment. Additional interest from a similar endowment gift from Erica Liebelt will fund another 10 buses annually. “Our goal was to directly impact the lives of students by assisting with the cost of transportation and providing the opportunity to experience art on a close and personal level through docent-led tours,” says Hanlin. “We are now committed to continue to support and grow the endowment so that it will have an even broader impact in the years to come.”