The North Carolina Docent Symposium 1997, “Under the Oaks — Many Branches,” was held in Raleigh, the “City of Oaks,” September 14 -15. Fulfilling a dream of docents who had attended national docent symposiums, this first statewide symposium was hosted at the North Carolina Museum of History. The 146 docent and museum staff participants came from across the state; fifty-six sites and thirty-nine counties were represented. Participants included three public history students from North Carolina State University attending on docent scholarships and a twenty-year docent “veteran” who was one of the forty North Carolina Museum of History docents working to keep the symposium activities flowing.
Information and inspiration abounded. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Betty Ray McCain spoke of the importance of docents as “truly the wind beneath my wings.” Keynote speaker Dr. Rex Ellis, Director, Center for Museum Studies, Smithsonian Institution, challenged docents to “seize the day,” and to make their “watch” a worthwhile one. Jackie Littleton, Associate Editor, The Docent Educator, discussed the role of the docent as gardant (one who preserves), mostrant (one who shows), and docent (one who teaches).
Nine group sessions provided attendees with information and skill broadening ideas. Groups toured the Governor’s Mansion, the State Capitol, Haywood Hall, and the North Carolina Museums of Art, History, and Natural Sciences. An Historical Fashion Show provided an entertaining look at women’s fashions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And, a sharing table gave sites from across the state a way to exchange information.
The idea of having a statewide symposium came after docents attended various national symposiums. A steering committee met monthly for two years, developing ideas into concrete plans. An initial survey mailed to potential participation sites polled interest and surveyed possible topics to be covered.
As an event planned by and for docents, the symposium was both a reward and an incentive. It was an opportunity to address docents’ needs and interests, to reinforce their training, and to validate the importance of their work.
Among the hopes of the symposium steering committee was that the state symposiums would continue in the future. The North Carolina Docent Symposium 2000, “Crown Jewels: The Value of Docents for a New Century,” will be hosted by the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, the Queen City, in the Spring of 2000. An accessible and meaningful docent symposium experience for museum docents and personnel will continue in North Carolina.
Lillian Kaluza is a docent at the North Carolina Museum of History. She served as publicity chairperson on the North Carolina Docent Symposium 1997 steering committee.
Kaluza, Lillian. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques, thoughts, and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 8.1 (Autumn 1998): 15.