4 Things to know before you volunteer to be a docent at an Austin museum

Ransom Center Docent

For a lot of us, becoming a museum docent would be a dream: You get to be around great art all day and share your enthusiasm and knowledge about it with people who are curious and ready to learn.

But becoming a docent is more competitive and rigorous than you might think. We encourage you to get involved, just know a few things before you decide if it’s the right volunteer opportunity for you

  1. You have to love the art. If you don’t love the museum, the art, and the mission, it will be obvious to the patrons you’re leading. And that won’t be a good experience for anybody. Remember, you’re going to have to talk about this stuff all day, many days. You’ve got to really enjoy doing that.
  2. You have to love people. Again, if you don’t, it will show. The people on your tour are going to come in all shapes and sizes with varying backgrounds and knowledge. You’re going to hear a lot of the same questions all the time. You’re going to hear the same jokes. But when you love talking and interacting with people, you won’t get tired of that, you’ll get energized.
  3. You should know a lot about the art and artist, the museum and its history, and other relevant information. People will ask you seemingly random questions, so it’s good to study-up ahead of time and be ready. Did the artist have any children? How many square feet is this room? How do they transport that sculpture across the ocean? Be as hungry for information about the work as your patrons might be.
  4. You should be committed. Most docent opportunities require a regular commitment to so many hours per month and/or for a certain amount of time. They expect you to be reliable and committed once you’re there.

If you’re still interested in being a museum docent, check out these great opportunities.

The Ransom Center is looking for Spanish-speaking docents who will play a crucial role in sharing the collection of global writing icon Gabriel García Márquez. The Ransom Center’s first full fledged García Márquez exhibition since acquiring his papers in 2014, Gabriel García Márquez: The Making of a Global Writer will feature items like correspondence, photos, and videos never before seen by the public. If you have strong Spanish language skills, an earnest desire to learn, and are eager to engage with visitors of all ages, the volunteer docent position is for you. Volunteer interviews will begin in November, and the four part training session will begin in January 2020. The exhibition will run from February 1st, 2020 through July 19th, 2020. You can find more information on the docent role as well as apply here. If you have more specific questions, you can reach out to the Ransom Center’s Manager of Visitor Experiences Monte Monreal here.

The Bullock Museum is accepting applications for volunteers to greet, guide, and present. Volunteers get to meet other great volunteers and visitors, spend interesting days in beautiful surroundings, and learn a few things along the way. There’s also a complimentary annual Museum membership that offers free exhibition admission, free parking, and invitations to sneak previews of exhibitions, educational programs, and some IMAX® Theatre films. And that’s not even mentioning the special volunteer parties and awards! Of course, there are a few requirements for receiving these great opportunities and benefits. You have to: 1) commit to a regularly scheduled weekly shift (accommodations can be made for personal plans), 2) attend interesting and well-presented continuing education and enrichment sessions, and 3) be over 18. You also have to apply here.

The Blanton Museum of Art is looking for volunteers who specialize in great customer service. In addition to all the skills and talents of a great docent, you must also apply, for through training, and commit to volunteering at least three hours a week or every other week for a year. There’s a number of ways to help, from working an information desk to helping with family days and other special events. If you love the Blanton’s ever-changing exhibits, come share your passion!

The Contemporary Austin values its 38-year-old docent program as an important contribution to the Austin community. Our volunteer docents lead conversational tours at the Jones Center downtown and at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria on Lake Austin. Both locations feature rotating exhibitions and permanent installations of dynamic contemporary art, unique architectural elements, and rich historical narratives. They’re also looking for applicants willing to train for four hours a month and volunteer to lead 12 tours a year for at least two year. Learn more here.

Every year the Umlauf Sculpture Garden offers guided tours to more than 2,000 children, adults, and seniors. Umlauf docents engage audiences of all ages by leading tours of the outdoor sculpture garden and inside the exhibition gallery. They provide docent training and camaraderie with no previous arts or educational experience required. Umlauf docents will be invited to enrichment offerings such as exhibition openings, curatorial and guest talks, public programs, and docent group events. Umlauf is also looking for volunteers to staff the visitor’s center and support special events. All volunteers must apply and be trained.

When you become a docent at the Elisabet Ney Museum, you’re taking on her legacy. Thoughtful, eccentric, brilliant, and worldly, she had an impact on nearly everyone she encountered. To this day, people are deeply touched by her remarkable story and by Formosa, the amazing Austin home and studio in which she lived. When you join this program, you’ll get the opportunity to attend thought-provoking events, focused on Ney’s biography, her prolific body of art, and her sculpting processes. And thanks to the beautifully-recreated historic landscape, you’ll even learn about regional ecology, native vs. invasive plants, and more. As a volunteer, you can conduct monthly tours or serve as a museum educator in the gallery or on our nature trail. You can also help with family events such as Ney Day, Portraiture in the Park, and the Polkapocalypse! If you’re ready to become a volunteer, learn more about what’s required here.

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