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Director's Note: Our Invaluable Docents

The George Eastman Museum relies on volunteers in many aspects of our activities. We are deeply grateful to these individuals for their selfless contributions to our mission.

A select group of volunteers undergo extensive training and devote hundreds of hours to make our visitors’ experience richer and more meaningful. They are our docents— the guides who generously invest their time and energy leading tours of the museum’s exhibitions and National Historic Landmark mansion and gardens. I want to extend my deep appreciation for these volunteers, who are an integral part of our guest services team, and to invite new volunteers to apply to upcoming docent classes. Docents enhance the experience of museum visitors by providing an elevated level of interaction and context. Guided tours enliven our visitors’ engagement with additional stories and information and help them connect with the Eastman Museum on a personal level.

Docents interact with visitors, encouraging questions and dialogue. They provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, making the exhibitions and historic mansion and gardens more approachable and accessible to visitors of all ages and backgrounds. More than thirty percent of our museum visitors take at least one docent-led tour. Each year, we host approximately three hundred private tour groups.

Most docents focus their training on one aspect of the museum, though several have chosen to receive training in more than one area. Mansion docents share the story of George Eastman’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic legacy by focusing on the history and architecture of his residence. Landscape docents interpret the historic gardens. Gallery docents engage visitors with the works on display in the museum’s galleries and provide an overview of the museum’s collections.

Becoming a docent is an educational, social, and satisfying experience. Our docents describe deriving a sense of purpose and belonging from their participation in the program. Docents share their passion as they communicate with our visitors. Their intensive training ensures that each time you visit, you can benefit from their well-informed understanding of the museum’s collections or the historic estate. Docents each make tours their own, and together offer a rich variety of faces of the museum.

Eastman Museum docents come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. We currently have 59 docents who give approximately 2,800 hours in volunteer service each year. Many are former educators, some are graduate students at the University of Rochester, and some, Kodak or Xerox retirees. Some have been docents for more than a decade, whereas others are just finishing their initial training.

Many of our docents—not only those who give tours of the historic mansion—view participation in the program as their way of carrying on George Eastman’s legacy. All of our docents contribute to the museum and community in a meaningful way.

The George Eastman Museum is seeking new volunteers to join its team of docents. You do not have to be an expert—you only have to have a desire to learn and share this knowledge with others. Prospective docents undergo extensive training, which includes being mentored by experienced docents. Docents also meet regularly for ongoing professional development. At training sessions, they have the opportunity to interact with curators, collection managers, and other museum staff and experts.

If you have an interest in the museum’s collections or its historic mansion or gardens and would like to develop and share this with others, please consider joining this group that plays an invaluable and rewarding role in our institution.

Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
September/October 2016 Bulletin