The Art of Volunteering

The Art of Volunteering

Looking for a great excuse to brush up on your art history? Maybe you have exemplary people skills you’d like to put to further use. In either case, being a volunteer docent at the Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) could be the perfect fit! “Volunteer docents are the backbone of the museum,” says Morgan Wells, curator of education. “They are a vital support to TMA.”
The Tucson Museum of Art has a long history, having been established in 1924 as the Tucson Fine Arts Association on Franklin Street. In 1954 the name was changed to the Tucson Art Center. It moved to its present location on North Main Avenue in 1975 and the name changed to the Tucson Museum of Art. That year, it also became the caretaker for five historic properties: La Casa Cordova, Romero House, Edward Nye Fish House, Stevens/Duffield House and the J. Knox Corbett House.
“We have three major areas of collecting always on view at TMA,” says Wells. “These include Modern and Contemporary Art, Art of Latin America and Art of the American West. Of course, we also have the five historic buildings people can tour. Major exhibitions are rotated every four to six months; these may be traveling exhibitions or shows that our curators have put together.”

How to Become a Docent
The word ‘docent’ is derived from the Latin word docere, which means to teach. “Our docent program is now in its 55th year; it started as a support group to do more outreach and educate the public about art,” says Wells.
No prior art background is needed to be a docent, just an interest in art and people, a commitment to volunteering and a desire to learn.
Training is intense: classes meet every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for eight months (October through May). During training, prospective docents will be educated in art history from experts in the field, including artists and professors from the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. They also will learn about the collections and historic properties at TMA. Prospective docents are taught how to give a tour to the public, and may go to schools or hospitals during the training period and shadow other docents. The training also may include a field trip to the Phoenix Art Museum, where they can observe their docents. The cost of training is $200 a person or $300 a couple; field trips may be extra. A prospective docent also must be a member of the museum.
Some of the many responsibilities/opportunities of TMA docents include:
• Welcoming visitors and providing answers to their questions at the Visitors Service Desk
• Leading daily public tours at the museum, including tours of the exhibitions, as well as tours of the historic block
• Conducting scheduled private tours, such as school groups
• Going to schools in the community and doing outreach.
• Writing and recording TMA’s family audio guide
• Giving art history talks
Once they graduate from training, docents are asked to contribute a minimum of 60 hours a year as a volunteer at the museum. “We had one docent who gave 250 hours the first year!” Wells recalls.
“Our docents find it so rewarding,” she observes. “They love interacting with the public. Their main priorities are working at the visitor’s desk and giving tours. The other opportunities are optional — they are fun, but not required.”
Tours are generally an hour long; shifts at the visitor’s desk are three to four hours. “We are very flexible in scheduling so it is convenient for our docents.”
“TMA currently has about 80 active docents and 70 associates (who do not have to volunteer as many hours. Other volunteer opportunities at TMA include helping with fundraisers, the primary of which are the Dream Home Raffle and the CRUSH Wine Festival. The Tucson Museum of Art League plays a lead supportive role in CRUSH and holds two additional fundraisers: Dinner à L’Art and Treasure House Estate Sale.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. If you would like to know more about volunteering, contact Morgan Wells at 624-2333 ext. 121. You also can visit www.tucsonmuseumofart.org.
The eight-month long Docent Training Program is scheduled to start Oct. 11, 2012. To register call 624-2333, ext. 121.   — Wendy Sweet