What is a docent

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Thursday 21 August 2008
Sarah Eades

http://assets.aucklandartgallery.com/assets/media/blog-docent-1.jpg

 

Recently at one of our regular Thursday staff meetings, Education Assistant, Christine Wildman did a fantastic presentation on our docent team. Here is an extract from that:
 
"Definition of docent – usually a volunteer guide and the word comes via German from the Latin ‘docere’, which means to teach or lead. It is a term introduced to describe our volunteers when the programme was instituted about 25 years ago.

We currently have 26 Docents (25 women and 1 man) who cover a wide range of life experiences and ages – ranging from 20+ through to 80+ - generally the age is older and the mix favours women." Christine Wildman, Education Assistant, Auckland Art Gallery
 
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With our main gallery building currently being closed, and our only exhibition space being the New Gallery, the staff are under pressure to try and provide the same kind of service in a very different environment. I was amazed to find out that docents sign up for a two year contract with us, and receive a 10 week training programme. some have been with us for over 10 years!
 
It just made me think how fantastic they are for committing their time to the gallery, totally for free, for the public and i thought it would be good to find out from one of them why they do it. So i have, and here is what docent Elizabeth Buchanan writes.

Being a docent at Auckland Art Gallery
by Elizabeth Buchanan

 
"I suppose I have always been interested in art. Unfortunately I am not gifted to paint or draw well myself. The opportunity to become a docent at the Auckland Art Gallery was just the incentive I needed to indulge myself in my desire to see more and learn more about art. What an opportunity!
Many years ago an inspirational art teacher quoted “never has anything in your home that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful” - I liked that. But as a docent, it’s often been a real challenge for me to revaluate how I personally think about objects and how I value them. Sometimes I really do not immediately relate well to some shows. I am constantly required to re-appraise my definition of “beauty” and look at more than just the skill displayed. What is the artist telling us, what is the truth here?

I love the regular docent meetings with the chance to hear curators describe their new exhibitions and share their excitement and knowledge. It’s then up to me to research independently. I am especially interested in understanding the historical and political background of shows.

Ultimately docents have the pleasure of talking to visitors, often from other countries, about the elements of the current shows. Visitors bring a different perspective too, which is often very interesting.

I especially enjoy helping the education staff in a practical way with the school groups who come to the gallery to view an exhibition. The children then create something for themselves influenced by what they have seen.

I count it as a real privilege to be a docent. Lucky me!"
Elizabeth Buchanan, 2008
 
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I really hope anyone who can comes and tries one of the docents free 2pm tours (they also help with education groups, adults group tours and support our access programmes, among other things). The docent team are not only highly knowledgable but also extremely entertaining. We are so lucky to have such a fantastic and committed team.


p.s unfortunately Elizabeth Buchanan isn't in any of the photos!!!