Wanted: people who love artwork

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA- A flock of children scanned MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology with a spirit of discovery on Tuesday.

Using flashlights, the little group of treasure hunters searched for ancient art in the museum’s Weinberg Gallery. Beams of light darted across the art and whispers bounced off the walls during the 30-minute tour.


  • Those interested in the docent program are invited to attend a meeting Friday at 3 p.m. on the museum’s first floor, though it is not required for participation.
  • To register for the meeting or to receive more information, call Callaway at 882-5076 or e-mail her at

Earlier that day, a group of MU employees listened to a storyteller paint a picture behind the pictures of Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham by pointing out the human, humorous and historical details of his work.

The experience would not have been possible without docents, museum volunteers who give tours to all types of visitors: school-aged children, Alzheimer’s patients, professionals and college students. The museum, which currently has about 20 volunteers, has used docents since 1977 and is now looking to hire more.

New docents must spend one year in training before leading tours and must commit to give 10 tours a year for a period of two years following their training, said Cathy Callaway, associate museum educator.

Training is free and consists of attending a class in art history and archaeology at MU during each of the next two semesters along with workshops at the museum three Mondays a month.

Prospective docents are not required to have a background or degree in art or history, simply an eagerness to learn and share. To prepare for tours, docents are equipped with special manuals containing facts and points of interest on each gallery or exhibition, allowing them to highlight or focus on the details they find most important.

“You can’t tell them everything about everything,” Callaway said.

Meg Milanick, a docent for 17 years, said volunteers need to be excited about art and willing to ask questions that involve visitors in the experience.

“The most successful way of getting people excited about what’s in the museum is to engage them personally,” Milanick said.

Ann Gowans has been an active docent for 26 years. Gowans, who has had a lifelong interest in the arts, said she has enjoyed leading tours and talking about art with “people who want to explore it, what it is, where it comes from, how it fits into the rest of life.”

In her eyes, art is “eternally interesting to people,” because it frames large social issues. Art is also “predictive of the future and discusses the past,” she said.

Volunteering as a docent is a wonderful way to serve the community, said Michael Kraff, a retired insurance executive and docent for the past four years. The education passed along through the program benefits museum visitors and the volunteers, he said.

“You yourself are enriched by the continuous learning,” Kraff said.

Milanick echoed that sentiment by saying the program can “keep you young” and keep a docent’s mind active.

Serving in the program also gives docents personal satisfaction. Milanick said one of her most rewarding experiences involved leading a tour for students and parents from New Mexico. After the tour, a school trustee told Milanick that one mother expressed regret she didn’t have similar experiences as a child.

“If I’d had a tour of museums like that at that age, I would have liked museums,” Milanick said, recalling the mother’s words.

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C. Danielsen August 15, 2007 | 3:22 p.m.

What an interesting article! Great writing! Being a docent sounds like a wonderful and rewarding job. I REALLY enjoyed reading this article!

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