Workshop Sessions Descriptions

                      Virginia Docent Exchange 2019 Workshop Sessions

Session Block 1– 10:00 – 10:50 am

Contemporary Art: Confronting Challenging Topics-Maier Museum 

Contemporary art reflects contemporary culture and society. In recent years, the Maier has presented exhibitions that confront and question topics such as: personal and cultural identity, race, gender, immigration, mass incarceration, violence, and the treatment of detainees and prisoners of war. Work on display has also pushed the boundaries of traditional art forms, forcing us to question our definitions of beauty, creativity, and process. While helping visitors understand and engage with the art on view, how can docents confidently facilitate tours and conversations with the public when the topics are too sensitive or difficult to navigate?  In this panel session, Maier docents will discuss strategies developed during structured training, informal conversations between colleagues, and personal reflection in order to understand and appreciate works of arts that can make one uncomfortable.

Risk Taking in the Galleries: Creative Ways to Spark Dialogues–Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art

Art Crush at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art is an interactive program which encourages creative thinking, risk taking, play and conversation. It is a highly experimental program for both those leading the activity and those taking part. Always done as a group activity, this program’s success relies on creating dialogues between participants. Art Crush can be easily adapted for different audiences, time frames, group sizes, and more. This session focuses on the development, successes and failures, and adaptations of the program. During the session, participants will take part in a mini-Art Crush to gain first-hand experience.  In this highly interactive session, participants should prepare to get a little silly, but learn a lot.

Looking Deeply: Bringing our Whole Selves to the Museum–Fralin Museum of Art

The presenter of this session is inspired to share the experience of being in the midst of cascading appreciation and the excitement that grows as we share our thoughts with each other, each person revealing a new aspect or viewpoint of two art works in the gallery. In this session, docents will engage in dialogue, not from prior knowledge of art, but from first thoughts about the works of art, employing careful listening, and building a sense of partnership as we seek as a group to give meaning to what we see. We will stand fresh before an object and let the work speak to our hearts, our memories, and the connections we make. With sharing and careful listening comes a deeper understanding of the work, the variety of experiences that color our views and a warm appreciation for our collective wisdom.

Drawing Tours to Lead Participants to Make Discoveries and Free Expression–Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Sketching in the galleries slows us down and forces a closer study of every element of an artwork, taking time to notice things ordinarily missed with a quick look. This practice allows a meditation on the meaning of the art resulting in a greater understanding of it. Communicating what is seen when studying a work of art through the tip of a pencil and a sketch pad can be a liberating experience. Sketching is also an excellent springboard for engaging with a work of art that you find challenging or doesn’t intrigue you.  In this gallery session, the presenter demonstrates various sketching exercises used to examine works of art during a tour. Through various prompts, participants hone observation skills, generate and communicate ideas, and reflect on what is seen. Participants quickly realize that drawing ability is not as important a factor in sketching experiences as looking and sharing. Participants will see things in the art not noticed before and find greater meaning and understanding leading to new ways to express ideas with the group.

Acknowledging Place, People and History– Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA

Doing an “Acknowledgment of Country” is emerging as a requirement at public events. Acknowledging the local Indigenous people of the land you are on, or the people impacted by the complex histories of oppression addressed during a tour, brings awareness and sets a tone of respect that facilitates constructive dialogue throughout an exhibition tour or event.  Dialogues about difficult topics are often dependent on setting a tone of mutual respect and sensitivity to underrepresented or silenced perspectives. In the years that Kluge-Ruhe has required this acknowledgment, a visible and audible difference in visitor response has been noticed, with a willingness to engage in challenging topics and consider Indigenous perspectives. This session begins with the introduction of the concept, providing resources on how to do an acknowledgement, followed by a discussion of what acknowledgments would be appropriate for tours on different topics. Docents will be encouraged to begin to acknowledge local Indigenous people at the start of their tours, as well as acknowledging other histories as is appropriate.

Kent Morris, artist in residence at The Kluge-Ruhe Collection will participate in this session and talk about why it is important to him as an Indigenous person and artist that this practice be widespread in countries with histories of invasion/colonization.

The Art Within #TheArtofHealing–  Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This gallery session demonstrates how art activities are conducted in the galleries with medical and clinical professionals and students by VMFA docents who also serve as faculty on the VCU Medical Campus. These gallery activities, conducted over several years with different categories of health services professions, serve as a focus for effective intra- and inter-professional collaboration, which promotes improved patient outcomes, treatment efficiencies, and equity across patient populations served. Gallery activities offer creative ways of introducing and emphasizing skills central to effective clinical practice and inter-professional collaboration. Providers rely on relevant observational skills, effective communications with other providers, and collaboration to generate effective, efficient, and equitable patient care. Objects of art serve as a novel and stimulating focus of promoting these outcomes. These activities can be replicated at other academic medical centers, or may compliment similar ongoing initiatives to use gallery experiences in educational and professional development programs.

Sessions Block 2–  11:00 – 11:50 am

Tactile Tours – Accommodating the Visitor Who is Blind or has Low Vision–  Chrysler Museum of Art

In this workshop, docents will learn skills in conducting a tour which will enable the expansion of the visitor base of their museum by reaching a new audience ready to experience art. With the aid of communication skills outlined by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, learn to overcome barriers of uncertainty in communicating with people who are blind or have low vision. Strategies developed from successful experiences and concepts from “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Wasily Kandinsky, are used to teach drawing of selected portions of paintings in the galleries. Docents will be guided in describing selected works of art using words, sound, emotion, and smell. By understanding the challenges of people with vision loss, docents will experience the joy of sharing the love of art with others in a new, exciting, fulfilling way.

Incorporating Artist Voices into Your Tours–  Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA

In this session, the presenter describes how the Kluge-Ruhe Collection defers to Indigenous voices in its exhibitions, programs and most importantly, its tours. It will be explained why this is essential when working with artwork by Indigenous artists or artists of color, and why it can be enlightening and helpful when discussing artwork by non-Indigenous or white artists. Incorporating artist voices into a visitor’s museum experience creates a conversation between the artist and the viewer. This approach recognizes the artist as the authority of their artwork as opposed to a curator or scholar. Docents become the facilitator of a group conversation and aid in humanizing the artwork by reminding that the art was made by an individual with a particular world view. Deferring to the artist’s voice can allow new and specific ways of interpreting the content of the artwork to emerge. Think “colonization” versus “invasion.”

A variety of methods and approaches of how to do this when preparing or giving tours will be given. Docents will be encouraged to look for quotes, essays or videos of artists talking about their artwork when preparing for a tour, to incorporate quotes by the artist into their conversation about the artwork or develop simple but innovative ways for visitors to participate by reading the quotes aloud.

Art Through the Lens of Creative Writing— Fralin Museum of Art

Focusing on creative writing, this session centers around thoughtful, intentional narrative, and the collaborative creation of stories based on artwork. Storytelling and personal interpretation of works of art inspire more conversational and cooperative tours rather than a one-sided, instructional lecture. This in-gallery session focuses on incorporating aspects of the creative writing process into museum tours. By using poetry, intentional language, and collaboration, docents will be empowered to engage in active dialogue with guests on their tours and follow their lead rather than focusing on a rigid narrative. Learn also how these creative writing tools are helpful in finding a place to start with difficult or abstract pieces and celebrate the personal interpretation of the visitor. A creative writing tour empowers the visitor to comfortably engage in discussion about art while docents gather new ideas and perspectives on often used and familiar works of art.

See/Think/Wonder…For Grown Ups–  Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Many adult visitors to museums shy away from direct participation on a tour and prefer a more passive approach. In this gallery session, methods that encourage conversation with adult visitors about art will be demonstrated using the principles of the VMFA’s self-guided resource, “See, Think, Wonder.” This session developed from a talk the presenter led with the TedXRVA group who met to discuss the role of art in the community. The discussion involved group observations about the artwork, questions asked and connections made between the works of art, ultimately leading to a discussion of the power of art. The session presenter will lead docents through the “See/Think/Wonder” process using questioning techniques from Visual Thinking (and Visible Thinking) as well as general inquiry-based learning (such as Socratic Seminars). The result should be an active and lively discussion using methods that show visitors that a degree in art isn’t necessary to enjoy, appreciate, or just talk about art. The museum is a place for all and everyone can See, Think, and Wonder.

Do You Hear What I See? — Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Rhythm, tempo, texture, tone, theme, mood and style – these are elements common to both music and art. In our culture, it seems like everyone is tuned into music of some sort but not everyone is as comfortable with visual art in a museum. Relating sound to art in a tour is a way of bridging that gap from more familiar sound into less familiar visual art.  In this gallery session, discover new ways to encourage your visitors to listen to the art! What do you hear as you look at a particular piece – silence, a four part harmony or a cacophony of sound? How do different selections from your playlist change how you see a work of art?  Participants will discover innovative ways to use sound to engage visitors as they share what they hear in each work of art!

Improvisation and Gallery Games–  Maier Museum 

The Curator of Education at Randolph College shares strategies to help docents better communicate and connect with their audiences by incorporating gallery games and “improv” techniques into docent training. These techniques encourage docents to use close listening, positive response, and flexibility as avenues through which information about a work of art is delivered. Additionally, gallery games and strategies borrowed from improvisational theater help to build confidence and critical thinking in a collaborative environment.  This session in the VMFA’s American art galleries, will include demonstrations and participatory games such as “Yes…and I see,” “Yes…and I also see,” and the “Living Wax Museum.” Improv activities help strengthen listening and responding communication skills, help develop a descriptive, powerful word bank about a work of art, help develop the ability to creatively pivot a conversation about a work of art as needed and help docents recognize visual patterns in works of art and make connections within and between works of art.

Session Block 3–  1:00 – 1:50 p

Art and Memory Loss: “Do you Remember….?” — Muscarelle Museum of Art

Muscarelle docents bring works of art to a Memory Support Unit of a local retirement community to use as a much needed tool to stimulate participants with dementia. Through the works of art, participants not only express opinions but recall long forgotten memories and emotions that bring them pleasure even if only for a moment. This session will demonstrate how to make art useful and relevant to people suffering from various types of memory loss as well as show how this Muscarelle program has sharpened their vision and enriched their experience as docents.

Teaching Tolerance through Oral History– Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This program has been presented to hundreds of people in an attempt to encourage discussions about diversity, discrimination, bullying and tolerance. Combining contextual history with the personal story of a Holocaust survivor and an American soldier from a small town in Virginia, emphasis is placed on personal responsibility, common ground, and empathy. At the VMFA, using art, history, photographs and personal narrative, we encourage an understanding of what happens when ignorance and intolerance take over a society. Individual courage and resourcefulness which resists violence and hatred is emphasized while encouraging participation by inviting reactions and questions about this painful history. The presentation is not only about the treatment of Jews in the Holocaust although that is one of the presenter’s experiences. It is about the ignorance, intolerance, and greed which cost over 75 million lives in WWII and continues to plague our society in its attitudes to people of color and other creeds. This presentation was made to fifth graders at Margarite Christian Elementary School. In this rural Virginia school, there were more than 12 ethnic groups represented. At the end, one girl asked, “But how do you keep the hate out of your heart?” That’s a question whose answer is worth seeking.

What Should I Do, When I Haven’t a Clue?– Chrysler Museum of Art 

This training session in the galleries will encourage valuable dialogue among docents by sharing successful strategies and brainstorming ways of handling the challenges docents face in leading a variety of tours with diverse visitors. How do you handle unexpected challenges such as planning to use artwork that has been unexpectedly removed, or when encountering another tour group where you plan to be?  What creative approaches can be used in giving a tour on a controversial topic or one that is outside the docent’s area of expertise?

The Dialogue Toolkit: Intentional Looking, Listening, and Language- Fralin Museum of Art

Intentional looking, intentional listening, and intentional language are key components of discussing a work of art with any age group or audience. Fralin docents have adopted artful thinking routines inspired by the common theme of teaching with intention found in “Slow Looking” by Shari Tishman, “Creating Cultures of Thinking” by Ron Ritchhart, and big ideas from “Teaching in the Art Museum” by Elliott Kai-Kee and Rika Burnham. Using one work of art, the presenter of this in-gallery conversation will model tools docents can use to create meaningful and intentional dialogues in the museum. Discussion will be led on guiding visitors to look with intention and direction as well as pondering the value of looking deeper. Strategies will be investigated to help docents actively listen and then link together the ideas of visitors. Deliberate and specific language will be considered that can be used to teach in order to communicate with clarity and purpose. This session will provide docents with tool belts of ideas, strategies and routines to build understanding through dialogue.

So Many Ways to Engage! —Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This session encourages participants to engage with works of art in new ways in the galleries, guided by reflection, group work, and imagination. A series of activities leads to observation, critical thinking, discussion and discovery. This interactive approach in the galleries encourages a re-examination of how to engage with works of art through active participation and inquisitiveness, resulting in the discovery of different ways to experience connections with works of art.

Using Ambiguity to Craft Thematic ToursVirginia Museum of Fine Arts

In this gallery session, the tour explores the theme of ambiguity and how works of art are most powerful when conveying multiple, complex messages. Each work will be observed in efforts to capture meaning through uncertainty – the questions that arise. Discovering multiple points of view of the group fuels discussion and can make the work more accessible to the viewer. Consider: Is art a mystery to be solved? Is the pleasure of the art enhanced by understanding? Is resolution of the ambiguity necessary to appreciate art?    Participants will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of different strategy discussions as the theme of Ambiguity is explored with works from the VMFA collection. Participants will gain insight on crafting a tour around a theme, selecting a theme that engages visitors and using language to connect with visitors and encourage sharing ideas.