Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Finding Joy

Last night was my first training session at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I am a provisional docent. Docent is a fancy word for tour guide, and it comes from the Latin, 'docere', which means 'teach'. Most museums that I know of use the term docent to describe the people who conduct tours of the museum's exhibits.

The training for VMFA docents is nine months long, with weekly two-hour sessions. We'll be learning about each of the museum's galleries and collections, and every other week is a lecture about a major period of art history, taught by one of the museum's curators. Next week we start with ancient art. I can hardly wait! I'm sure someday the excitement of being allowed in the galleries and in the library outside of public hours will dissipate. Actually, I kind of hope it doesn't.

The docent position is completely a volunteer thing, and people have expressed amazement to me that I would undertake such an involved process with a commitment like this in order to be a volunteer. But why wouldn't I? This is the state's museum, it's important, I love to teach and tell people about historical artifacts and the people who made them. I love to do research and find new answers to old questions - or new questions.

I am using this training and this volunteer position to determine how big a change I might make in my future.

It's a logical thing for me. Yes, the time is significant. No, I don't get paid. Yes, it means some schedule Tetris and some asking friends to help on occasion. But the rewards are great. I get to help my state's museum further it's mission to reach out to all people in the state and beyond, and to join the conversation about why art is important in our 21st century world. For me, it's not about teaching the people who already like art or know about art. It's the opportunity to show someone who thinks art is only for high-brow, highly educated, highly sophisticated people, a new perspective on the world. If I can do that, then that is worth it to me. With arts funding totally down everywhere, and schools cutting arts programs like a hot knife through butter, what better time to use my own enthusiasm to show people why cutting this out of our lives is a huge mistake?

After we learned about the docent programs and policies, and did a fun exercise in verbal communication and visual skills in the (closed) gallery, we were done for the evening. I get access to one of the largest museum research libraries on the east coast of the US, access to the curators if I need research questions answered, and the chance to teach, however informally.

As I walked out of the building that used to be the Home For Needy Confederate Women, dusk was falling and the streets were quiet. A sense of 'right-place' came over me and for a brief moment, tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. THIS is where I want to be, at least one day a week.