Docents draw on dedication

The volunteers enrich the art experience for many visitors to the Butler.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Did you ever look at a work of art and wonder what the artist was trying to communicate?
Believe it or not, hundreds of elementary school pupils from Mahoning and surrounding counties could probably tell you. Many of them have had the advantage of visiting the Butler Institute of American Art under the guidance of its docents, trained volunteers who conduct outreach programs and give tours.
"It opens the museum to people who don't know about it," said Carole O'Brien, the Butler's education director. "The kids know about it, and they bring their families in."
Adults, too
But it's not just the kids who are eligible to take advantage of the Butler's army of trained volunteers. The docents go out to give talks to civic groups, and lead tours for adults, too. Docent-led talks and tours are free to the public; they just need to be scheduled in advance.
"You get an insight and background into paintings," explained O'Brien of the docents' lectures and tours. "You learn how to look at art."
The Butler's docent program has been going on for more than 20 years, and most often attracts retired professionals who want to keep learning -- and give back to their community. The trainees spend months studying the Butler's collection and taking classes on the elements of design and art history. They learn how to communicate with museum visitors, too.
Once they graduate from training, each docent commits to give two tours a month. Docents also attend a monthly meeting that constantly augments their knowledge of the art world; they'll brush up on exhibitions coming to the Butler, or hear a lecture given by an artist or art historian.
"It's a wonderful group of people, and it's an excellent opportunity for people who have retired," said O'Brien. "You are always learning, something new is always happening, and you share your love of art with people."
Training session
The next docent-training session will begin in the fall, and there are already dozens of docents available to give lectures and tours to anyone who is interested.
"We get special people here; they are so dependable," said O'Brien of the docents. "Wonderful friendships begin."
To schedule a talk or museum tour, or to find out how to become a docent, call Carole O'Brien at (330) 743-1711, extension 114.

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