Art Institute of Chicago plans to increase docents

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Tom O’Keefe, a decont giving tour at Art Institute of Chicago, Friday, January 20, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times.

For the first time in three years, the Art Institute of Chicago is looking to add to its volunteer docent corps, part of a plan to increase the number of school groups visiting the museum.

The museum currently hosts about 110,000 school kids annually but has the capacity to serve as many as 150,000 thanks in part to extra educational space constructed with the Modern Wing.

“We’re looking to make kids lifelong art lovers” in the course of an hourlong tour, said Karin Jacobson, the museum’s coordinator of the docent program. “We’re really interested in having a diverse program and serving Chicago Public School kids.”

Admission and docent tours are free for CPS school groups. Currently, there are 117 active docents. Jacobson is hoping to add around 30 to the ranks, including volunteers who speak a second language.

The docent job is not for those looking for a casual commitment. Docents are selected through a competitive application process. Those accepted receive three semesters of training in art and teaching techniques. The tours, for children ages 4-18, are not scripted and require intensive interaction with the young museum visitors.

Docents have the option of writing a series of papers to qualify to lead tours in different areas of the museum, said Robin Schnur, the museum’s director of student programs. The most experienced docents receive the title of “all docent,” which allows them to lead any of the 20 tours the museum offers.

“It’s a very special type of volunteer commitment,” Jacobson said. “You have to love art and engaging people with art, especially kids.”

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