Area students assist TMA docentsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) recently launched a student guide program, partnering with Toledo School for the Arts (TSA) to train select students to assist docents in leading public tours of “Manet: Portraying Life.”
Seniors Kim Fisher of Toledo and Grace Parr of Northwood and juniors Drew Fleniken and Madison Littin both of Toledo, underwent a yearlong training process prior to the exhibit’s opening in October.
The students studied the 19th century French painter and his portraiture as well as learned basic docent skills such as how to ask open-ended questions and how to adjust tour information between adults and children. Each also chose one of Manet’s portraits to research in depth.
TMA docent coordinator Paula Brown-Gray said the program is the first of its kind at TMA since at least the 1990s, when she came to the museum.
“We wanted to work with students and their passion and energy for the arts and Toledo School for the Arts seemed like a good fit,” Brown-Gray said.
Veteran docents act as mentors.
“Before a tour, we meet with the docent and they can answer any questions we have,”
Fleniken said. “If we’re having any trouble during a tour they will jump in and help out. Afterward, they tell us what we need to improve on and what we did good.”
All four students said they’ve enjoyed seeing firsthand how the museum operates.
“I just like being sort of behind the scenes, being on the other side of the tour,” Fisher said.
“The museum puts all these things together, but you never really know how they do it and it’s cool to see all the work that goes into it,” Fleniken added.
The students said people are often surprised to find such young guides, but most leave impressed.
“People definitely don’t expect teenagers to be giving tours,” Fleniken said.
“They all think it’s wonderful kids are involved in the museum,” Fisher added.
“The docent said I did an amazing job and she was so glad I joined her and asked that I join her on more tours, so I think it went pretty well,” Littin said.
Museum docent Jeanne Rudski of Perrysburg partnered with Fleniken and Parr on tours.
“They are some of the most personable and well-spoken young people I’ve ever encountered in my life,” Rudski said. “Both of them had prepared a particular painting in the exhibition and had done thorough research, so they were well-grounded and were able to present their research in the framework of the tour. Both were great. I just kind of stood back during the works they were presenting and let them do their thing.”
Parr said the most helpful advice she’s gotten from veteran docents is to go with the flow.
“You have to feed off the energy of the people there. You can make a lesson plan, but you really need to be able to move with what they are saying,” Parr said. “I like the interaction with the people, to hear what they say, because I know what I’ve learned and what we’re supposed to say, but to hear what they have to say is cool because I can learn from them as well.”
Fleniken said he learned tour guides have to be enthusiastic.
“They won’t enjoy it unless you’re enjoying it,” Fleniken said.
Fleniken, who plans to study art history or graphic design, said the experience is the perfect preparation for his chosen field.
“It was amazing,” Fleniken said. “I learned how to help people enjoy art and understand it.”
Parr, who hopes to become a museum curator, said it helped strengthen her longtime love of art.
“I’ve loved it so much,” Parr said. “I was used to loving art secretly and would do my own art studies. Now I get to really learn about it and work with the people who usually would teach me when I go to the museum. Now I get to teach other people.”
Littin is planning to study atmospheric science, but said she’s learned a lot from her student guide experience.
“It was just really, really eye-opening and I loved it,” Littin said. “There were times where I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ but I stuck with it and I’m glad I did because the payoff is really, really nice.”
Although still undecided about her future plans, Fisher said serving as a student guide has caused her to reconsider.
“I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but now I’m not sure,” Fisher said. “I’ve always liked art, but it’s made me really like art a lot more and appreciate it more.”
David Saygers, artistic director of TSA, said he’s glad the museum partnered with the school.
“It was a brave step on the part of the museum because the Manet exhibition is an important one for them,” Saygers said. “They take their docent program very seriously and for them to commit to training students as docents is a big thing.”
The experience has given the students professional experience as well as an understanding of how museums work and the kinds of opportunities available in the art field, Saygers said.
“We hope it’s an experience that strengthens their interest and helps to clarify how it might influence their career,” Saygers said. “A couple of them are really looking at careers in museums, so it’s been a really meaningful experience. The docents who have observed them do tours have been really impressed and pleased with the quality of their knowledge and the way they interact with people on the tours. Honestly, it seems like it’s been a really meaningful experience for everybody. It’s been a real success.”
Brown-Gray said the museum plans to continue the program.
“Everyone that’s worked with them thinks it’s great. They have done us very proud. They are really remarkable young people,” Brown-Gray said. “We’re going to be doing more training for the next exhibition and we’re hopefully going to use these four to train the next four or five. David [Saygers] is very much wanting that to happen, too. We’ll be meeting in January to talk about the next step.”
TMA, located at 2445 Monroe St., is the only North American venue for “Manet: Portraying Life,” which drew from more than 30 public and private collections worldwide. The exhibit is on display through Jan. 1.
The Manet exhibit costs $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and is free for children 5 and younger. General museum admission is free. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday and closed Mondays and major holidays.
Tags: Toledo Museum of Art