Block Student Docents – Learning and Leading in the Gallery

Gallery Guides. Facilitators. Meaning-makers.

Docents do not necessarily fit under a singular title. Their job extends beyond guiding; they act as facilitators and mediators, helping people make meaning of artworks and the ideas that arise from them.

All tours at the Block are lead by a cohort of student docents whose primary role is to facilitate in-gallery learning experiences. These students lead all of the museum tours which engage the full breadth of Block audiences, including university students and faculty coming for class visits related to their courses of study, adults visiting the museum from neighboring communities, and well elementary and high school-age students.

To support them in their role, docents receive in-depth training on the art that the museum presents as well as on how to be dynamic, effective facilitators. They meet with Block curators and read related texts to equip them with deep content knowledge about current exhibitions. The group work closely with the Engagement staff to learn about and experiment with different approaches to gallery teaching and learning, including inquiry-based dialogue.

Docents are engaged in many different disciplines and fields of study at Northwestern and bring their unique interests to their work at the Block.

Student Docents in Their Own Words:

16602653_10155039286633493_7075699620516774257_n.jpgName: Cammy Harris

Year: Sophomore

Major: Theater / International Studies

Why is working as a docent important to you?

I love docent work! As a theatre major, a lot of my work on this campus revolves around facilitating emotional and intellectual experiences for others. I can definitively say I’ve not experienced many forms of that purer than docentry. Art can be so intimidating sometimes, and yet so rewarding when we truly engage with it, and it’s a joy to help people with that process….I think the museum spaces are really quite desperately needed on this campus, particularly in light of recent political activity.



Name: Vanessa Gao

Year: Senior

Major: Art History / Creative Writing

 What got you interested in being a docent?

I have always liked going to museums, but never had the opportunity to show others what I love so much about museums. So the docent position is really perfect – I get to hang out in the gallery as well as share my thoughts about artworks with others!


Name: James Tsui

Year: Sophomore

Major:  Biology / Art Theory and Practice

Who’s your favorite artist?

Jean-Michel Basquiat, for bringing elements of street art into the typically elite fine art world. The visual language he forms and uses, creates for paintings that stimulate and pay homage to his character.


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Name: Alye Miller

Year: Senior

Major: Radio / Television / Film / Creative Writing Fiction

What got you interested in being a docent?

Even though I study film and writing, I’ve always loved museums and art, and I plan on working in museums and arts non-profits when I graduate. I was particularly interested in the program because the Block’s exhibitions are always compelling and they change really frequently, which makes the job fun and engaging. I also love talking about art with strangers, which is basically the whole job! My goal is always to make art as accessible as possible, even to people who may hate art or who have never interacted with art. Now that I’m graduating, I’m so happy I work as a docent at the Block because it’s prepared me for a career in the arts.


Name: Kelsey Allen-Niesen

Year: Sophomore

Major: Asian Language and Culture (Chinese) / Art History

 Who’s your favorite artist?  

James Turrell is my favorite artist because his work changed my perception of art. His artwork forces the viewer to engage in the piece, changing art from a passive viewing to an active participation. Seeing Turrell’s work for the first time was a turning point for me and I find myself going back to his art time and time again.


 Name: Jiaming Wu

Year: Sophomore

Major: Journalism / Economics

What got you interested in being a docent? 

Many people are intimidated by the idea of going to art museums because they have the presumption that one has to be really knowledgeable of art in order to go there. By being a docent at Block Museum, I want to break this presumption and expose more people to the joy and inspiration of seeing art pieces by facilitating interactive but informative conversations.

Contributed by Abigail Kamen (Medill 2018) and Andrea Patete  (WCAS 2019) Block Museum Communications Assistants


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