The Johnson Art Museum recently launched the Student Docent Program to train Cornell students interested in becoming tour guides at the museum.
The new program was initiated because the existing schedule for docents came with a demanding time commitment, said Jessica Evett-Miller, assistant coordinator for University programs, and one of the program’s founders.
“As a student docent, I bring people into the museum to give them a comprehensive tour of the Johnson’s permanent collections,” Aly Stein ’13 said.
Many public school groups visit the museum during the week, she said, which often conflicts with undergraduates’ class schedules.
“We saw a need for a specific program that would suit the needs of students interested in becoming docents, and provide them with opportunities to give tours at the museum,” Evett-Miller said.
According to Evett-Miller, each student enrolled in the Student Docent Program is required to attend five training sessions to learn about the museum’s collection. In the last session, she said, students choose between six and eight works to focus on during the tours they will lead.
“We tried to pick [pieces] from every permanent collection, which meant exploring art that otherwise I might not have been drawn to,” Stein said. “I tried my best to choose pieces that would be able to all connect together somehow, despite being from different parts of the world and different centuries in time.”
Once students are deemed qualified tour guides, they organize three groups to lead around the museum, a requirement that “attracts more visitors to the museum,” student docent Dorothy Chan ’12 said.
“These [groups] can be student organizations, a sorority or fraternity, a sports team, or a group of friends — any groups on campus that they are involved with or choose to approach with the offer of a guided tour,” Evett-Miller said.
Student docents said that the program gives undergraduates who are potentially interested in entering the art world an opportunity to experience museum life.
“On the professional level, this program is great for anyone looking into museum studies or curatorial work,” Chan said.
Although an interest in art history motivates many students to participate in the program, most of the docents are not history of art majors, Stein noted.
“When I look at ‘Fields in the Month of June’ painted by Daubigny, I use the interpretation of a Development Sociology major to note the rural mystique that the painting creates. Without my background in DSoc, I might have otherwise not taken note of that,” Stein said.
According to Stein, several of this year’s docents are proficient in foreign languages, alowing visitors to choose the language spoken on their tour.
Evett-Miller said she is very pleased with the young program thus far, but plans to implement slight changes next year.
“I think we will revise our training slightly and ask students to commit to giving four tours during the academic year, rather than three. We are also instituting a more formal application process,” she said.
The program was established at the beginning of this school year, Evett-Miller said, and the trainees were first eligible to give tours this semester. There are currently 11 certified docents.