For Students

Docents: Conversation, Inquiry, and Imagination

UMMA docent, George Collins (class of 2004), introduces elementary students to Nydia, the blind flower girl of Pompeii.

A docent is a teacher, guide, and interpreter. That definition doesn’t begin to explain, however, the many exciting and satisfying components of the UMMA docent program. Docents talk with each other and patrons about art and life, they inquire into the history of art, and they engage their imagination every day. If you are a curious and creative person, you may want to consider joining the 2014/15 class, forming now.

People come to the docent program for many reasons. Jim Frenza (class of 2011) got involved because he has loved museums since he was a teenager growing up in Detroit and visiting the Detroit Institute of Art.  Many docents have spent time in some of the world’s great museums, but that is not the only path. Others came to the program because of their interest in working with children. Sherri Masson (class of 2008), a retired teacher, tells us that “a lifetime of working with children made docent work seem like a perfect retirement opportunity.” Some discover new branches on the docent path. For example, Marlene Ross (class of 1998) has found that touring people with memory loss is very satisfying. She reports that “the tours create a bonding place for everyone involved.”

School children are central to the mission of the docent program. Masson says she wants to introduce children “to the magic of art and to inspire learning.” For the young visitors who rarely, if ever, get to museums, Frenza makes his tours “gently educational.” Every docent has memorable moments in touring. Masson recalls that one high school teacher sent her the finished writings that students started on a tour and “it was exciting to see evidence of the tour's impact.”


In recent years, the content of tours and the interests of patrons have diversified. Frenza has enjoyed meeting high school students from Ypsilanti “who were terrific—the kids were engaged and asked very good questions, of me and of each other.” He also enjoyed meeting incoming international university students.  Docent Nancy Goldstein, (class of 1998), has focused on adult public tours. Adult audiences range from longtime UMMA devotees to first-time visitors. She likes that in a tour they will have “discovered new information, insights, surprises, and maybe even shared some laughs.” Along with visitors, the museum evolves, too. Masson finds it exciting to be in a place “that is constantly adapting to new technologies and innovations yet holds on to its traditions.”

UMMA docents bring rich and diverse life experiences to their service which they share with each other, often providing unexpected joy and benefits. ”I did not anticipate the level of friendship and support that has been part of the docent experience.  A shared love of art creates a special bond among the docents and the Museum staff.”

If you think that you would like to join the UMMA docent team, follow this link for the requirements of the program and for the application, or e-mail Applications will be accepted through April 4, 2014.