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With the end of the year approaching for many docent & guide organizations the National Docent Symposium Council thinks it is a great idea to thank all the wonderful people who volunteer countless hours making the museum experience a meaningful one for visitors. What is the best way to honor docents? What keeps docents docenting (possibly not a word but you know what I mean?) Museums often find ways to honor docents at this time of the year. Luncheons are held, awards are given and in San Francisco, California and Evansville, Indiana Mayoral Proclamations were handed down last year to recognize docents and the amazing service they give. Museums also give parking discounts, gift shop discounts, sponsor enrichment trips and give holiday parties. I think docents enjoy the parties, discounts, and recognition but I wonder if this is what really keeps docents contributing untold volunteer hours to their museums.

Personal Development: NDSC, 2017 NDS Montreal and YOU

My theme for the spring of 2017 is personal development and YOU.

Personal development is the process of achieving and expanding your full potential. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you have the power to experience and expand your personal development. Whether you are improving your strengths, reducing your liabilities, or expanding what you are capable of, personal development is a path.

NDSC (the Council) Mission and YOU:

The mission of the National Docent Symposium Council is to promote continuous improvement in docent practice by facilitating communication and collaborative interaction among U.S. and Canadian volunteer docents/guides. This is accomplished through biennial symposia, sales of The Docent Handbook and with our interactive website

The NDSC consists of 30+ volunteer docents/guides from across the US and Canada who represent docents/guides from a wide variety of cultural institutions and museums. Our members are dedicated team players, who actively support our mission statement and the NDS. Our strong suit is the broad base of leadership, experience and knowledge that 30+ people bring to the table.

A gentleman adjusted his glasses to read, one more time, the clue in his booklet that described a work of art in the Taft Museum of Art. With his hands tied behind his back, he cannot see what is happening around him. Who is he?

"By golly, I think I finally found it," he said to himself as he studied the 16th century Italian Majolica plate in the Renaissance Treasury of the museum. He wrote "a blindfolded cupid" on his answer sheet.

This gentleman was a guest attending the annual Docent Fall Social at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio and was participating in a Treasure Hunt as part of the evening festivities.

Edith Wharton meets John Singer Sargent. More precisely, aspects of the society that Edith Wharton describes in The Age of Innocence can be seen reflected in portraits by John Singer Sargent of his wealthy and privileged sitters. Edith Wharton and John Singer Sargent, both American artists, were at the peak of their creative energies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period known as the Gilded Age for the tremendous number of fortunes that were amassed during this time, and the lavish lifestyles those fortunes supported. What relationships do you see between the culture Edith Wharton describes and the culture of John Singer Sargent's sitter—Wharton's illuminated in words, and Sargent's illuminated in oil paints? How are they similar? How are they different?

If the above paragraph sounds like the beginning of a discussion, it is intended to be. It is a sample setting for a 'Book-Meets-Art Tour' as we have been conducting these at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). First, let me explain the philosophy that drives a Book-Meets-Art Tour, why we're calling it a 'creative visitor experience, and how we're implementing it.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) Docent Council celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016 with many events and accolades. Our organization would like to share our experience with other docent organizations who may want to collaborate with their institution to celebrate a significant milestone.

Docents formed a 50th Anniversary committee and planned special events to acknowledge and publicize this historic event.

* A Golden Jubilee Handbook that included the history of the Docent Council, important Milestones over the years, docent pictures, and images of art works that docents contributed to.

Jen Brown (Oleniczak) is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in improv-based workshops and professional development for educators. Docents at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC had a chance to experience her engagement techniques during a recent training session.

We may think of improv as freewheeling comedy or situations where anything goes, but Jen assures us that it is anything but. Improv requires strong listening skills and concern for others.
For improv to work as intended, those involved must support each other so that everyone participating is successful. You can help your visitors feel comfortable by encouraging and supporting their contributions to the tour conversation.

Tales from the Museum

Many museums have works in their collections that are accompanied by an interesting story or unusual circumstance. Share your museum's tale by sending an article to Kristen Keirsey:  

Docents at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC enjoy sharing a painting with two signatures, a plaque giving artist attribution and wall text that explains how a museum mystery was solved.

Sanford Robinson Gifford and Jasper Francis Cropsey are familiar names among Hudson River School painters. These artists and their contemporaries painted the scenery along the river in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic region in the mid to late 19th century. The painters shared a quality in their work that was later termed Luminism to describe their focus on light and atmosphere. They painted the same subject matter and often had similar elements of composition. It can be difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference between the painters in some cases and, as the Mint's story goes, it was difficult for the professional eye as well.

To make a long story (the subject of entire exhibition) short, in 1945 the museum was loaned a painting attributed to Jasper Cropsey. The work was signed and dated 1871 but little else was known, including the exact title.

Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts festival originated in Nantes, France in 1984, and gradually spread to many cities in Europe. Typically, museums, private and public art galleries, and other cultural institutions are free to the public and open all night. The centre of the city is turned into a de facto art gallery with art shows, music, art, and film and dance performances.

On October 1, 2016, The Art Gallery of Ontario hosted 23,050 visitors between the hours of 6:58 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. on October 2. Many visitors were at the AGO for the first time. Says Melissa Smith, Coordinator, Gallery Guide Program and Adult Education Officer Program: "We were able to collect a lot of emails through a photo booth and requiring an email address to sign into our Wi-Fi. We have connected by sending emails about upcoming exhibitions and programs to encourage a repeat visit."

Commitment to the NDSC/NDS future

National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) 2016 Annual Meeting

Thirty-three NDSC members met in picturesque Montreal, Canada, October 5-6, 2016 for our annual planning and business meeting. The NDSC is an unusual organization, comprised of volunteer docents/guides who live in various parts of the US and Canada, who meet once a year and conduct business primarily by email.

So what holds this group together?

Commonality: Our commonality is to maintain and build on a solid foundation for future symposia and other NDSC sponsored educational opportunities. We voluntarily accept the responsibilities and requirements for a four year NDSC term of service that makes continuity possible. We are committed to the NDSC/NDS future.

Challenge: Our challenge as an organization is to ensure that the NDSC/NDS remains relevant and viable. We set our goals and objectives with an eye and ear focused on the future, with special attention given to managing our financial and human resources. We are committed to the NDSC/NDS future.

Teamwork: Our members are dedicated team players. Our strong suit is the broad base of leadership, experience and knowledge that thirty-three people bring to the table. Identifying issues and problem solving must be streamlined by teamwork when you have two short days to manage the next year's work. We are committed to the NDSC/NDS future.

You'll find educational website links recommended by docents under the Resource menu tab. Docents who suggested the sites have found the information contained there to enhance their continuing art education. The sites may add to your art history knowledge or help you stay current on trends in the field. Events and personality profiles can be found as well.

As with Book and Movie Reviews, we hope you'll share the sites you've found to be of value. Send your recommendations to Public Relations Committee Chair Kristen Keirsey:


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August 30th is the last day to register with a $50 US discount.

For the NDS 2017 Montreal Symposium
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Please consult our website and make your choice of the Breakout sessions, Off- site workshops and Pre-Symposium tours before beginning the registration process.

Rendez-vous à Montréal !



Dinners for non-registered accompanying persons

We are happy to announce that non- registered persons accompanying delegates will have the possibility of attending two of our evening dinners. However space is limited. Please see our website for details at


Social walk/run for NDS Symposium Delegates


The Sheraton Centre will host a special edition for the NDS guests in the morning (7:00am-8:00am) on October 12th and October 13th. See our website for details under What’s new.


La Balade Pour La Paix: An Open-Air Museum


A public art exhibition along one kilometre of Sherbrooke Street West created by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for Montreal’s 375th anniversary.
The route features 67 stations (30 sculptures and 42 photographs) by Canadian and international artists. It is lined with the flags of the close to 200 member countries of the United Nations, along with those of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories.


October 12 - 15, 2017
Almost Here!


Coming to Montreal? Find out what you need.

1.  Valid passport expiring more than 6 months after the travel date

2.  Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA): exemptions include U.S. citizens, travellers with a valid Canadian visa and Canadian citizens.  Please refer to the Government of Canada site for more information