Teachers, Guides, Interpreters

The Docents at the University of Michigan Museum of Art engage the community and each other in the exploration and enjoyment of art. They bring art to life for thousands of visitors each year. 

What is a Docent?

If you are a curious, creative, flexible person consider joining the 2018/19 UMMA docent class, forming now. 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 explore art history, and they engage their imaginations every day. 

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 visiting the Detroit Institute of Art. Sherri Masson (class of 2008), a retired teacher, says “a lifetime of working with children made docent work seem like a perfect retirement opportunity.” 

Docent Laurie Nutt

School children are central to the mission of the docent program. Jennifer Edwards (class of 2014) likes sharing the "love of art virus" with the children on her tours. For young, often first-time visitors, Frenza makes his tours “gently educational.” Every docent has memorable moments in touring. Masson recalls reading the writings that students started on a tour and that “it was exciting to see evidence of the tour's impact.”

In recent years, the content of tours and the interests of patrons have expanded. In addition to children, docents meet university students, adult visitors who are longtime UMMA devotees, and first-time visitors. 

Marlene Ross (class of 1998) has found that touring people with memory loss is very satisfying. “The tours create a bonding place for everyone involved,” she says. 

Along with visitors, the museum evolves, too, adopting new technologies and innovations while holding on to its most valuable traditions. UMMA recently joined the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum and other local organizations developing programs for families with members on the autism spectrum. UMMA Docents celebrate 40 years of service

UMMA docents bring rich and diverse life experiences to their service which they share with each other, often providing unexpected joy and benefits. Jennifer Thomson (class of 2011) illuminates this aspect of being a docent: “The most unexpected benefit to me was meeting a whole new group of friends! We seemed to immediately connect over our love of art, travel, and learning new things.  I look forward to meeting more amazing people as new classes join the docent corps.”

If you think you would like to join the UMMA docent team, download the requirements and application (PDF). If you have questions, email Grace Vandervliet at Applications will be accepted through April 2, 2018.


What do UMMA Docents do?

Design and deliver tours for museum visitors of all ages, particularly young students in grades K–6.

Serve as hosts to museum visitors. Docents expand the reach and influence of the museum by increasing public awareness and appreciation of the museum, its collections, special exhibitions, events, and programs.

Attend workshops and training sessions to stay up-to-date on the collections, special exhibitions, and strategies for effective gallery teaching.

Participate in project groups, serve on committees, and accept positions on the Docent Board.

Are Docents Art History Experts?

No. A background in art, art history, or teaching is not required to become a successful docent. Docent training at UMMA is experiential, practical, and conceptual. Trainees observe experienced docents, learn the history of selected objects, and create sample tours. They learn the art and art history of the UMMA collections (strengths are African, American, Asian, and European art), age-appropriate touring techniques, gallery teaching strategies, a variety of learning styles, and museum operations as needed.  

It will be long remembered as a special day. Having the opportunity to see the museum and pottery really makes the learning that happens in the classroom more concrete and tangible.” 

- Teacher from Mar Lee School

Apply Now to Be A Docent

Join UMMA's award-winning docent corps.

"The docents as a group were very well informed and were very capable in drawing my students into discussion and observations regarding the various works of art. Thank you all for bringing art to life for our students!"

-6th Grade Educator