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Easing the Anxiety

When the Dayton Art Institute announced in 1995 that its galleries would be closing for an 18 month period to accommodate an ambitious renovation and expansion, docents and teachers alike wondered what would happen to this worthwhile experience. What could have been a problem became a wonderful opportunity for our institution to “pack up” our galleries and take them to the schools! In January, 1996, The Dayton Art Institute introduced Galleries on the Go to the community. Six thematic programs, based on works of art from our permanent collection, were made available for presentations in 1st through 6th grade classrooms.

Galleries on the Go “kits” consist of large plastic tubs filled with props, pictures, and hands-on materials, along with portfolios of hill-color, poster-size images of the works from the museum’s collection. Docents with as much as 25 years experience touring in the galleries accepted the challenge of conducting outreach head on, but with understandable reservations.

“How will I know where to go?” “Will it be safe?” “Will there be an easel available?” These were just a few of the many questions asked as docents anticipated this major change in logistics. Wanting docents to concentrate on creating meaningful experiences for students in the classroom, and not on these annoying yet unavoidable logistical issues, we created a series of questions for docents to ask the school contact, Questions that, if answered in full, should alleviate much of the anxiety created by going somewhere new and different, and that would allow docents to focus on what they do best.

After culling the docents’ questions and concerns, and adding a few of our own, we developed the following checklist. A brief conversation between docents and classroom teacher answers most or all of these and can relieve much of the stress involved in teaching in a new environment.

  • What time are we expected to begin and conclude?
  • How do I get to the school?
  • Where should I park; how do I find the school office, and who will meet me in the school office?
  • How many students will be attending?
  • Will there be any students with special needs attending the presentation?
  • Can you describe the physical layout of the room? Are the students at desks, at tables, in a circle, or in rows? Is there a chalkboard in the front that can be used?

Be sure to mention any special requests or needs that you (the docent) may have, such as an area on the floor to sit, a chalkboard, or an easel for instance.

In addition, several scheduling guidelines were created to ease the stress and guarantee maximum success for the new, logistical dilemma.

Teachers are requested to remain in the classroom. We have found that having the teacher in the room allows them the opportunity to enjoy the presentation, while relieving the docent of dealing with discipline issues that may arise.

Each of our six thematic topics has 3 identical “kits.” Each topic is assigned only 3 times a week, eliminating the need to “juggle” kits. Outreach kits can be picked up at any time, but are always returned by Friday afternoon. This allows them to be restocked by a group of volunteers and re-circulated the following week.

Docents are scheduled in pairs. The idea of “safety in numbers” reassured the docents of always having someone there with them. While leading the presentation as a team created new issues for us to grapple with, the benefits have far outweighed any potential consequences.

Docents are categorized by their home location. In addition to selecting a day of the week for their volunteer service, docents were designated as either “North” or “South.” We try to assign docents to schools within their designated vicinity.

Each of these suggestions was created to ease the anxiety of making the tough transition from touring in galleries to presenting outreach programming in classrooms. While the content of the presentations is familiar, the process of “packing up and hitting the road” can be scary. The docents response to Galleries on the Go has been tremendous, though. Serving over 1,000 students in our first few months, docents experienced genuine pleasure by conquering this new project and expanding our horizons!

Deena M. Pinales is the assistant curator of education for docent and teacher services at The Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, OH. Ms. Finales received both her BA. in Art History and her MA. in Art Education from the University of Cincinnati. She also holds a K-12 teaching certificate in the visual arts.

Pinales, Deena M. “Easing the Anxiety,” The Docent Educator 6.3 (Spring 1997): 17

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