At the start of her third week as a certified docent, Nancy Miwa (pictured above, far right) arrives early to shadow the guided school tour World Religion Through Art. “I always like to see how other people are doing it before I do it myself,” Miwa says. She follows along as a veteran docent points out works with Hindu, Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and other religious themes to students from the Hawaii Baptist Academy. That school group represents just a fraction of the 24,000 students Miwa will have an opportunity to guide each year at the museum—an opportunity shared by the museum’s growing legion of almost 200 docents.
On Aug. 31, curator of education Betsy Robb and tour and docent scheduler Jan Tucker handed out diplomas to the latest graduating class of school tour docents, including Miwa, who completed the five-month training program that ran from January to April, and then through August. Robb and Tucker were joined in Palm Courtyard by many longtime docents to congratulate the graduates, give lei and hugs, and savor celebratory pūpū.
The 16 new graduates are: Elizabeth Bryant, Nevin Bryant, Virgie Chattergy, Deborah Cowland, Gladys de Barcza, Catherine Hall, Bea Hunt,Carole Iacovelli, Debbie Kim, Mary McGowan, Nancy Miwa, Amanda Lei Perron, Sally Proctor, Pamela Redding, Julie Vassalli, and Sara Wakayama.
That roster reflects the museum’s healthy volunteer and docent programs. “I get applications year-round from people wanting to join our docents,” Robb says. The Honolulu Star Advertiser highlighted these results in a Sept. 6 article on museum docents, stating that the Honolulu Museum of Art “has had resounding success with volunteers by making the work relevant and rewarding in many ways,” while other cultural institutions unfortunately “are struggling to fill their volunteer rolls for a variety of reasons.”
The article cited popular volunteer opportunities like helping out at ARTafterDARK as one reason for the museum’s unmatched success. For the docents, it’s often the collection that does the trick. Miwa likes being able to “pick a few tours you really like and then just focus on those.” Guided school tour docents learn 24 tours in all. “Once you learned a tour,” Miwa says, “like the Art and Life in Early America tour we did last January, [Robb] wanted us to get out there and start doing it. So we shadow people first, and then do some on our own, and that’s how we did it all along. It’s learning by immersion.”
While they are all art lovers, many of the new graduates have teaching backgrounds, bringing invaluable skills to the school tours. For example, Carole Iacovelli taught ceramics to middle and high school students in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. Dr. Gladys de Barcza led college-level art classes in Georgia and California before joining the University of Hawaiʻi system.
Miwa, who has a master’s degree in medieval history, moved to Hawaiʻi last November (following many visits from New Jersey). “I knew I wanted to get involved in art somehow,” she says, and the docent course was “perfect.” In addition to giving school tours, Miwa will share her knowledge with adults too—on Sept. 22, 24, and 27, she leads the Tour + Talk Story on The Medieval Mind.
Pictured above, from left to right: Betsy Robb, Pamela Redding, Sara Wakayama, Virgie Chattergy, Bea Hunt, Debbie Kim, Mary McGowan, Catherine Hall, Julie Vassali, and Nancy Miwa.