Summer Teen Docent Program

Summer Teen Docent Program

Summer Teen Docent Program

Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Inc.
925 Camp Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: 504.539.9650
Fax: 504.539.9602

Focus: Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 7

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $10,500

Partners: Calliope Puppets; Children’s Hospital of New Orleans; New Orleans Public Library

Funders: Daybrook Foundation; Eugenie & Joseph Jones Family Foundation; Freeport-McMoRan Foundation; RosaMary Foundation; The Helis Foundation; The MaggieGeorge Foundation

Think “docent,” and you might envision a guide who leads groups of visitors through museum galleries, imparting information about the works on view. But when the New Orleans-based Ogden Museum of Southern Art launched its Summer Teen Docent Program in 2007, the museum developed a far more varied—and fun—job description for its young employees.

Every year, the museum works with schools in under-resourced sections of the city to recruit six to eight students with an interest in art. During their training, the teens receive a solid grounding in the museum’s impressive collection of American Southern art and spend a portion of their time leading tours for young people. They also perform other functions. For example, every summer, the museum holds its Art & Drama Camp for elementary school children. The Teen Docents serve as counselors, supervising campers and helping teaching artists carry out various activities, such as creating props and costumes.

The teens also take on another nontraditional docent assignment: working as playwrights and puppeteers. Early in the session, every teen identifies a work of art from the museum’s collection that he or she would like to interpret for young people. Next, each one works with a professional puppeteer to develop a play about the piece and make puppet characters. When the summer camps end, the Teen Docents present their plays and show reproductions of the artworks at local libraries and at the children’s hospital.

The goal is to reach children who might not have a chance to visit the museum in person. Because Southern art tends to have a strong narrative quality, this theatrical approach can be an effective way to draw youngsters into a piece’s “story,” explains Education Coordinator Ellen Balkin. The teens’ humor also helps children connect with the art, she adds.

Along with learning more about their region’s cultural heritage, the Teen Docents earn a $1,000 stipend and gain job-related skills, such as arriving on time, dressing appropriately, and interacting professionally with the public. And, while the number of Teen Docents may be small, these young people engage with more than 1,000 individuals during their session.

The museum also benefits from the teens’ presence. “We rely on them,” Balkin asserts. “We couldn’t do our summer programming without them!”

Being a Teen Docent taught me the feeling of having a job. I learned what responsibility comes with having a job and how to keep it.

Damian Keelen former participant, Summer Teen Docent Program