Beach Museum of Art Docent Job Description

The word docent comes from the Latin word “docere” meaning to teach. During the 1800s it was used to describe lecturers who were not on the salaried staff of an institution or a private/volunteer tutor. Today the term is used by many museums to describe the trained volunteers who provide educational services for the museum visitor. Other terms include tour guide, interpreter, and volunteer educator.The role of a docent is three-fold. 1. They serve as hosts, to provide a welcoming atmosphere. In many cases they are the museum’s “front-line” or main human representatives. 2. They serve as interpreters of the museum’s exhibitions, helping to give the visitor a deeper understanding and appreciation of the artwork. 3. In addition, docents assist in preserving the collections by providing auxiliary security in exhibition areas.The interpretive or educational role of the docent is the most important and challenging aspect of the job. In order to be effective, a docent cannot just lecture to an audience. Docents must strive to actively involve visitors in the interpretation, giving them the tools of visual literacy. A docent should help the visitor attain some sort of “ownership” of the art, and enable them to include art in their own lives. In order to do this, the docent should provide a broader understanding of the exhibition’s concepts and provide a context for the collections with which they are working.In their role as interpreter a docent must be careful not to force value judgment or opinions on a visitor. Docents should strive for objectivity. Art is an intensely personal experience. The goal of a good tour or program is to enable the visitor to think for themselves about art. In addition, a docent must be sensitive to visitors’ differences – learning style, cultural backgrounds, age level, and special needs. Today’s audience is as varied as the artwork on the wall and requires open-mindedness, flexibility and respect.

The following characteristics make a good docent:

  1. A sincere and genuine interest in people of all ages.
  2. A love for and excitement about learning and teaching.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy.
  4. A sense of flexibility and cooperation.
  5. An attitude of tolerance and respect for all people’s points of view.
It is the policy of the Beach Art Museum that all staff members respect visitors’ opinions. Staff proposing negative or overly subjective views in public on artwork, exhibitions or people will receive only one warning, which will be placed in their personnel file. A second incident will result in dismissal.



  1. Prepared – This means not only knowing your material, but also being on-time (actually a bit early is better, since your group may show up early), and having everything you need for an outreach program or activities/projects in the museum.
  2. Friendly – You are the hosts and hostesses; the front line of the museum. Enthusiasm is contagious
  3. Good voice and good dress – This relates back to being a good host/hostess. You may want to practice speaking with a tape recorder or have someone follow you to see if your voice is loud enough, and always remember to face you audience so that those who lip read can see you and for the best projection. Communication includes the eyes and face!
    Appearance is important but so is comfort!
  4. Interactive – The best tour is one in which the audience feels that they have participated. Not only does it help them to remember more of what they have seen and heard, it gives them a sense of ownership. In addition, a docent should be responsive to the audience’s interests and needs.
  5. Open-minded and Respectful – We all come from different backgrounds and have unique beliefs and opinions. It is important to respect each person’s views and be open-minded to new information. It is also important to remember that our own views should not be a part of the tour – we are here to guide visitors. Our role is to help them understand the art and connect it to their own lives. Whether we like a particular work or not, it is our duty to present it in a positive, informative manner.
  6. Able to Read your Audience – Age levels, learning styles and cultural background enter into every tour. With practice you can learn to read your audience and see what methods of touring suit them best, what learning styles are represented, and if you are keeping their attention. Timing is another aspect of reading your audience – let them set the pace with their interest level, but remember to control the over-talker, etc.
  7. Exercise Good Judgment – This will help to control visitors and help in emergency situations.
  8. Admit that you Don’t Know Everything – While preparation is mandatory, we can’t know everything. Admit when you don’t and assist the visitor in finding out
  1. Attend all training sessions – this includes the two semester training course and monthly continuing education for special exhibitions (these are also business meetings) and undergo evaluation of training. Absences must be excused by the Education and Public Services Supervisor and arrangement will be made to make up session.
  2. Keep personal copy of the docent notebook up to date.
  3. Undergo a yearly peer/self evaluation.
  4. Docents are expected to commit to volunteering at the Museum for two years after they complete training. A special exception will be made for KSU students who may be graduating before the two year period is up. Exceptions will also be made for special circumstances.
  5. Commit to working two – three times a month (1-2 hour time slots). Leaves of absence will be granted by the Education Coordinator. Note: Docents may discuss a lighter time commitment with the Education and Public Services Supervisor.
  6. Keep track of all hours volunteered (training and working) in the card file in the Education and Public Services Supervisor office. These hours are important for grant applications.
  7. Arrange for your own substitute and notify your superior of changes. In the case of an emergency, notify the office by 8:30 am.


While the Museum is obviously the major beneficiary in this situation we hope that docents also benefit from the educational opportunities and camaraderie provided by the docent program. In addition docents will receive:

  1. Field trips and other special educational activities
  2. Mileage to and from Museum may be used for a tax deduction
  3. Letters of recommendation for students
  4. Museum Newsletters
  5. Access to the Education Department Library
  6. Free copies of selected Museum publications

Docents are requested but not required to join the Friends of the Beach Museum of Art. Docents will not receive FOBMA benefits without joining.

(Please note that these requirements may change from year to year)

Training Course
The education department hopes to prepare prospective docents to deal with a variety of educational situations. As a result the initial training course is rather extensive, consisting of two semesters. The semesters have been designed to coincide with the KSU academic year. Daytime and evening classes are available.
The training course is designed to meet the following goals:

  1. Develop visual literacy
  2. Develop familiarity with the Beach Art Museum’s permanent collection
  3. Provide a general art history background of 20th century American art
  4. Train docents in learning styles and developmental learning
Train docents in interactive museum education and touring techniques
Develop audience sensitivity
Information from the training sessions should be kept in a loose leaf binder provided by the Museum.Semester I
Docents will be introduced to art vocabulary (elements of art and media) and taught how to analyze or read a work of art (description, formal analysis, interpretation, and evaluation and judgment). In addition lectures will be provided on 20th century American art history and the Beach Museum of Art collection. Evaluation will include a quiz on terminology and art history, activities on reading a painting and a short paper analyzing one work of art from the collection.Semester 2
Docents will begin by learning about various learning styles and developmental differences in learners. Through modeling interactive activities, docents will learn how to involve visitors with art work. Special training will be provided on thematic school programs and docents will be required to design their own highlight tour using the permanent collection for the public. Docents will be asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the training sessions.Continuing Education
Additional training will be required each time exhibitions change and will consist of a lecture by the curator, thematic tour training by the Education Coordinator, and highlights tour brainstorming among the docents. These meetings will occur on a monthly basis starting in September and going through May. These meetings will also be a chance for docents to air concerns and share information with the group.

Docents will be considered In-Training until they have completed the initial training course and given a sample adult tour to the Education Supervisor
After completion, they will be considered a Docent.

While docents will not be placed in special categories, the Museum Staff will try to honor programming preferences. For example, a docent may express their preference for working at seniors’ centers or with adult groups rather than working with school groups. There is no guarantee that docents will only be assigned in their preference area, but every effort will be made to honor these wishes.

  1. Docents will be evaluated during training sessions to test the effectiveness of training and look for problem areas.
  2. Docents will participate in a yearly staff review with the Education Coordinator. This review will consist of a self-evaluation form and discussion with the Education Coordinator. The Education Coordinator will tour the galleries with docents from time to time to spot check training needs. Evaluation forms for various types of tours will be made available to all docents.
  3. Docents will be asked to evaluate training sessions and the Education Coordinator.
  4. Docents should know that teachers and other representatives of visitors’ groups will be asked to evaluate programs.
  5. Docents are encouraged to participate in peer review to help each other grow as tour guides.
  6. Docents are encouraged to make suggestions about training or express needs or areas of confusion. The Education Coordinator will be able to work with docents on problem areas or assign a mentor.
A personnel file will be kept on each docent for reference and is available to the assignee. It will contain vital statistics, copies of performance reviews, thank you letters, scheduling info, etc.