This August, in between Birds in Art preparations and programming, the Woodson Art Museum staff offered new-docent training classes for a group of six community members. These enthusiastic and insightful future docents comprise two former physicians, an artist, a lawyer, a designer and amateur botanist, and a retired salesman who served as the Museum’s former fire extinguisher training instructor.
Throughout three origami exhibitions that concluded March 1, the Woodson Art Museum welcomed more than 1,100 students during class visits. Before closing – or folding – the book on origami and turning to upcoming exhibitions being installed this week., I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of the Museum’s volunteer docents who guided students during the past twelve weeks.
Each year, as Birds in Art inevitably sneaks up on me, I consider ways to share and interpret the avian-themed artwork with Museum docents, visiting students, and program participants. The annual process of looking for serendipitous themes or popular subjects in Birds in Art begins in May, when fellow curator of education Lisa Hoffman and I view small, printed images of exhibition artworks spread out on the library table by administrative manager Shari Schroeder.
Finding ways to excite and intrigue students means getting creative. In my experience, the popular writing adage “it’s better to show than tell” applies when developing content for guided gallery experiences.
The Woodson Art Museum is really, truly BTYB – Brought To You By – volunteers. Dedicated, generous, curious, and enthusiastic volunteers make visitors feel welcomed, add beauty to our grounds, and engage thousands of school children each year.
Typically, the prospect of the holiday season isn’t one I’m enchanted by. Gift giving? Not my strong suit. Christmas music? Pass. Snow? Please. Side effects of the holiday season include five extra pounds, mandatory cheer, and sometimes hairy travel across state lines. I’m not a total Grinch, though; one seasonal symptom I can appreciate is a renewed sense of gratitude and connectedness.
Whenever I participate in some sort of large, group gathering for work, I always leave with “Post-it® Note promises,” whether literal or in the form of a mental note. These notes consist of follow-ups and reminders for myself stemming from conversations with members of the group. As is true for many people, meetings with staff or community members always yield mental notes, which are usually fairly easy to address and check off the list. Multi-day events, though, like the opening of Birds in Art is another story.
Perhaps it’s the holiday season that has me thinking about elves. Although at the Woodson Art Museum, elves really are busy year round. The elf vision that pops into my mind now – along with sugar plum fairies – is the magic-making variety. I’m specifically thinking this time of year about the Museum’s volunteer docents, who are responsible for magic-making experiences for visiting groups of all ages.
How can we nurture engagement and foster loyalty in our visitors? How can we engender in our volunteers a sense of pride in the Woodson Art Museum? These and other big-picture ideas and lofty aspirations take shape in various ways here – inclusive public programs accessible to all, enthusiastic and passionate staff, dynamic exhibitions, and pleasing public spaces, to name a few. These are notions I consider when working with new volunteer greeters and docents and this spring has been filled with many volunteer training sessions. In addition to teaching incoming docents about Museum collections or art interpretation, it’s important to communicate our underlying identity: a thoughtful, progressive, and barrier-free institution that seeks to enhance lives through art for all visitors and the north central Wisconsin communities it serves.
The Woodson Art Museum’s exhibition schedule is developed to provide visitors with rich visual arts experiences. As curator of exhibitions, I look for variety in building a diverse schedule to appeal to the broadest spectrum of visitors. A couple of years ago, an exhibition of artist-designed clothes made of recycled materials caught my attention. Through research, I discovered a TED talk by the artist – and environmental advocate – Nancy Judd. In it, Nancy wore a yellow dress that she’d made from strips of plastic caution tape. She explained how her fashionable clothing made from trash was the perfect way to encourage people to recycle. After seeing the talk, I knew it would be a special exhibition.