Archive for October 28th, 2021

Service of Volunteers II

Thursday, October 28th, 2021

What is it about museums? The last time I wrote about volunteers was in 2012 and oddly, it also involved a museum’s shabby treatment of its volunteers. Then the Brooklyn Museum suddenly disbanded its 64 year old Community Committee formed to raise the museum’s profile, start a docent program, give presentations in low-income schools with items from the collection, and plan events. The committee was kicked to the curb.

This time it’s the Art Institute of Chicago that dismissed its 82 docents ending the program in a letter. The goal of the new program, wrote Robin Pogrebin in her New York Times article, is to “forge closer ties with the racially and economically diverse city it serves.”

She reported “The docents — longtime, dedicated volunteers who know the Institute and its collections intimately — lamented the decision.” The Chicago Tribune “denounced the move in an editorial headlined ‘Shame on the Art Institute for summarily canning its volunteer docents.’”


Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay  

The editorial “described the dismissal of the docents as ‘a callous move in a cruel time in America’ and called on Mr. Rondeau to ‘apologize and find some kind of compromise that does not involve the spectacle of long-serving devotees of a great museum left to feel like they’ve been put out with the gift-store trash.’” James Rondeau is the museum director.

According to Pogrebin “The new plan calls for hiring paid educators — Ms. Stein invited the volunteers to apply for those positions — and then developing a new program over the next few years.” Veronica Stein is “the executive director of learning and public engagement for the museum’s Woman’s Board, which supports education activities.”

Pogrebin reported: “The docents at institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are all volunteers. ‘For many years we have worked concertedly to attract a diverse corps of docents,’ said Gary Tinterow, the Houston museum’s director, ‘and we look forward to continued diversification of staff and volunteers.’”

I come from a long line of volunteers–Two grandmothers, mother and father, uncles and aunts rolled up many a sleeve for decades–and my sister continues to do so. I’ve done my share and can speak only for myself: It seems so easy to disrespect and discount volunteers and cut off their contributions in a trice like unwanted suckers on a tree trunk–so why not do it? Are volunteers treated with disrespect because they are not salaried? Is it because many are retired and therefore old and not in sync with what an organization wants its image to be? Are museums alone or is this behavior typical of all organizations that use volunteers?



Image by StockSnap from Pixabay  
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