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With such helpers, it docent matter if you understand art

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DOCENT – From the Latin docere, meaning “to teach”

Sarnia’s Jane Bouchette is a communicator. She loves research and enjoys people.

So, even though she’s not an artist or an art student, Bouchette is ideal for the volunteer docent’s job at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG).

Thousands of visitors have opted for a tour of the gallery’s exhibitions since it opened in 2012, and they’re often guided by one of 20 volunteer docents like Bouchette.

“There’s always something new to discover in a work of art,” she said. “We try to engage people and make them feel comfortable and happy in the space.”

Many art galleries have docents, though it’s not a household term, says Anna Miccolis, JNAAG’s Community Art & Education Co-ordinator.

“Statistics tell us people look at a piece of artwork for one-to-17 seconds, which grossly imbalances the amount of time an artist put in,” Miccolis said.

“Docents provide insight into the artwork so people actually stop and see everything rather than walk by.”

A natural appreciation of art and ease in speaking to people are valuable qualities, she said.

“Some docents have a background in art, some are educators, and some have very little experience in either.”

JNAAG’s docents get a lot out of the experience, Miccolis said. Once recruited, there’s about 1.5 hours of training offered each month in which docents learn about the exhibitions, the artists and spend time with the works.

On tour at the JNAAG, from left, Cynthia Maher, docent Jane Bouchette, Anne Craig, Helen James and Dorothy Rizkallah.
Cathy Dobson

During the training, they might play games or other activities to nurture creativity and inspiration.

Bouchette, now retired from a job in IT, said she frequently spends additional time doing her own research.

“As a volunteer job, there’s not many like it because you are always learning, always researching.” She spends three and 10 hours a month on the job at JNAAG.

The gallery tries to incorporate a docent’s natural strengths into tours. For instance, during “slow view” tours, participants are led through a meditation in front of the artwork.

Several of the gallery’s docents sing while presenting, most recently at a quilt exhibition with the songs related to sleeping and dreaming.

“They just felt it naturally fit and had a lot of fun with it,” said Miccolis.

The gallery is planning to recruit more volunteers, including docents, in January. Anyone interested should watch JNAAG’s website for the date of the volunteer information session in the New Year.

The Arts Journal is about our community’s cultural fabric.  Send your ideas to [email protected].

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