Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Hirshhorn ends docent program, telling volunteers that they are no longer needed

Last weekend, my friend and I visited the Hirshhorn Museum to see the exhibit Days of Endless Time, which made me to introspect my everyday life. I noticed that this major museum tried to position itself as contemporary. And then I see this article and Zenia’s post about what strategy the museum has taken to modernized itself.  It seems that the strategy that ending docent program and recruiting young and more time devoted volunteers cause lots of rebound from former loyal docents.

“Hirshhorn officials say the change was needed to keep up with the times. Visitors don’t want formal tours anymore; they want casual interactions with staff who can talk about the work and ‘help them understand it better. And guides need to be in the gallery frequently to do this well.” If those officials really say the truth, the change is coherent to the museum’s longterm development and works for current audience. However, that’s seemingly unacceptable for those loyal docents some of whom have volunteered decades. They surely got angry when the museum dismissed the docent program just because it found younger and cheaper labor force. And what’s more important to the museum, those docents might be donors as well.  How to pacify them becomes a big question.  How can an organization make changes which are for the longterm development while won’t hurt the feelings or benefits of the current “consumer”- donors, volunteers, real customers? How can an arts managers balance those well and make win-win decision? At this case, I think the Hirshhorn Museum should get those docents informed well ahead of time instead of warning them in the last minutes, thank their work, tell them the reasons why it should make changes, and involve them in other parts of work/participation.


About yaoge2016

Yaoge Wang is an emerging arts administrator dedicated to arts, culture, and nonprofit sector. With Accounting and Arts Management backgrounds and a special mix of “right brain/left brain” balance, she brings strong analytical skills and judgment as well as creativity to complex problems. She has extensive professional experience in the U.S. and China. She hopes to apply this international perspective to make the arts more visible to the public.

3 comments on “Hirshhorn ends docent program, telling volunteers that they are no longer needed

  1. jessicamallow
    November 5, 2014

    You have some really great points in here! I managed a volunteer corps at Orchestra Iowa, and one of the biggest problems we found, as we moved toward professional help, was that our volunteer corps was no longer needed and no longer represented the vision that we wanted for ourselves. But for all the reasons you mentioned, we tried to keep them relevant, at least a few times a year, because they ARE donors, and they DO leave money in their wills, and are a major part of the support core of the institution.

    • yaoge2016
      November 5, 2014

      Thanks to give real life example to justify my suggestion! Things seem to become making those donors feel as part of the organization (which is fundraising thing) instead of really creating value from their voluntary work. Anyway, did Orchestra Iowa inform those volunteers this situation? Should they do that?

  2. shrulala
    November 6, 2014

    I would also suggest a program to phase out the older docents would be to have them give the younger ones training. The knowledge and patience they have will be hard to replicate but definitely give them their due and also time to adjust to the change. Maybe even have a month veteran donor hour or something like that so you bring them back and feature them as a special. The buyer persona of the museum includes all ages and this actually might be beneficial to the museum

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