Posted: December 12, 2006
Opportunities abound at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, which is now seeking applicants for its Art Advisory Board Fellowship and for its docent program.
Why work at the Art Museum? Kate Dalton '03 credits her experience as an Art Advisory Board Fellow with having given her "new eyes."
"Going to museums as a kid, I was curious about how exhibitions get put together," Dalton said. "I would ask, 'Who writes those labels?' and 'Who decides what goes next to what?' During my first visit to the Smithsonian, when I was about 11, I kept having to be told, 'Get back. You're too close.' I really wanted to be a part of what went on behind the scenes."
While a senior Italian major at Mount Holyoke, Dalton finally got her chance. As a J-Term intern at the Art Museum, she spent three weeks unpacking and installing an African exhibition. "I knew from my art history classes that I wanted to work with art. The internship sealed my decision to work in a nonprofit."
After graduation, Dalton worked for two Boston art dealers and for the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln. By happy accident, she contacted the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum in 2004, right as its staff was launching the Art Advisory Board Fellowship. Dalton applied for and won the paid fellowship, and eagerly threw herself into learning all she could about curatorial work, collection management, and museum administration. Museum director Marianne Doezema was so impressed with Dalton's skills and work ethic that she offered Dalton a second fellowship year.
Now considering art history Ph.D. programs, Dalton remains enthusiastic about the fellowship position that she will, in six months, turn over to another new alumna. "When I go to museums now, I have a completely different perspective. Not only am I looking at the art on display, but also the lighting, the labels, the entrance. I wasn't expecting to have these new eyes. I'm now thinking about the things that most museum visitors might not even be aware of, but that are the details that influence how they interact with the whole place."
The museum's education coordinator, Jane Gronau, agrees that a great museum experience relies on careful, behind-the-scenes work. It also relies on great museum interpreters, or docents. "The right guide makes all the difference in someone's visit," says Gronau, who is now in the process of recruiting and training new docents. "Anyone who is able to make the commitment is welcome to apply."
Docent volunteers receive rigorous training and learn to give tours both of the Museum's comprehensive permanent collection and of special exhibitions such as the forthcoming Excavating Egyptshow. Each docent develops his or her own strengths, and is given the opportunity to guide elementary school groups and adults. Other perks of the job include free lectures, social opportunities, and field trips to regional museums. Some background in art history is "a plus," but not essential, Gronau said. "Teaching is a form of performance art. We're looking for lively and enthusiastic folks who are able to take sophisticated material and make it accessible."
For more information on becoming a docent, contact Jane Gronau. Applications for the Art Advisory Board Fellowship are due February 15.