From training to touring: The fabulous life of the NMWA docents!

When visitors arrive at NMWA, some of the first people they encounter are the welcoming and knowledgeable docents at the Information Desk. From staffing the desk and guiding visitors on tours to engaging students through special programs and outreach, our docents touch thousands of lives every year. As one of our long-time docents commented, “I love being a docent at NMWA because I have the wonderful opportunity to meet visitors from around the globe and have a dialogue with them (sometimes in their native language) as we explore the incredible contributions that women have made to the arts through the ages.”

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NMWA’s docent core is a diverse group that includes college students, former diplomats, nurses, teachers (current and former), business leaders and librarians. Some docents are Washington, D.C., natives while others were born or have lived in countries thousands of miles from 1250 New York Avenue. As a result, NMWA can offer you a tour in Arabic, Farsi, French and Spanish.

Becoming a docent involves an application and interview process followed by about six months of training. Training includes learning about artists and works in the collection, which spans from the Renaissance to the present, but a major component of the process is learning to engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Docents use a variety of techniques to encourage visitors to experience art in a meaningful and personal way. Docents also learn how to lead thematic Girl Scout and student tours and work with staff on special programs such as Role Model Workshops, in which contemporary artists lead teenage participants in creating works of art. Truly, training is a time commitment but current docent candidates find it worthwhile. Says one, “After the office, the traffic, the cold…we get to stand in front of 16th century paintings and talk about sumptuary laws, and how Anguissola’s first husband was killed by pirates…I can never wait for Monday night!”

The next time you are at NMWA, make sure to stop by the Information Desk. Whether you’re looking for Renaissance art, restaurant recommendations or the restroom, our friendly docents are happy to help make your visit informative and fun. A twenty-three year veteran of the docent corps perhaps sums it up best, “It’s a pleasure being surrounded by such talent and sharing the works of art with others!”

Interested in volunteering with NMWA? Go to www.nmwa.org and complete a volunteer application. Elizabeth Keaney is the Assistant Educator at NMWA.