Welcome home, fellow Gator.

The Gator Nation's oldest and most active insider community
Join today!

Chicago Art Institute Fires Every Docent Volunteer

Discussion in 'Too Hot for Swamp Gas' started by lacuna, Oct 17, 2021.

  1. lacuna

    lacuna The Conscience of Too Hot Moderator VIP Member

    62,814
    3,393
    1,853
    Apr 8, 2007
    Redlands, Colorado
    As reported by the WSJ under its headline "Indocency on Display at the Art Institute of Chicago", this past Saturday, the museum displaying some of the world's finest art has fired every docent in a move towards diversity in it volunteer staff.

    Indocency on Display at the Art Institute of Chicago - WSJ

    The Art Institute of Chicago crouches on Michigan Avenue, defending the surrounding Grant Park from the city’s skyscrapers crowding in. Spreading over more than a million square feet, the museum has almost 300,000 works of art. And zero docents.

    In museum-speak, a docent is a trained volunteer who greets visitors and guides them through the collection, filling in details of the artists’ lives, speaking to the visual elements of the work on display and adding art-history context. The Art Institute used to have more than 100 docents, 82 of them active, until Veronica Stein, an executive director of learning and engagement, sent a Sept. 3 email canning all of them. In gratitude for their long, unpaid service—averaging 15 years each—the Art Institute offered the involuntarily retired guides a two-year free pass to the museum.

    The apparent problem was that the Art Institute docents were mostly older white women of above-average financial means and with plenty of time on their hands. The institute needs to go to a more professional model, Ms. Stein explained, “in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility.”

    The museum’s docent program was established in 1961, an initiative of the Woman’s Board, a support group for the museum, and the Junior League of Chicago. For more than 60 years, crews of docent volunteers have introduced children, donors and museum members to the Art Institute’s holdings—which include classics such as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (1930) and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (1942).
    ________________________________________________________

    For those prevented by the Journal's paywall from reading the article, it goes on to say the dismissed docents were requested not to speak to the media. However on October 1st the president of the museum's docent council, Gigi Vaffis, was interviewed on radio WBEZ, Chicago's NPR station and broke the story.
    A recording of that interview can be heard at this link:
    Art Institute of Chicago Ends Its Volunteer Docent Program | WBEZ Chicago

    "We were surprised, we were disappointed," Gigi Vaffis, president of the docent council, said in an interview with radio station WBEZ of the firings. "There is an army of very highly skilled docents that are willing and ready and able to continue with arts education."
    _______________________________________________________

    Chicago museum fires all of it's mostly White female, financially well-off docents for lack of diversity (msn.com)

    Chicago museum fires all of it's mostly White female, financially well-off docents for lack of diversity

    The Art Institute of Chicago fired all of its trained volunteers and guides last month, who were mostly older White women, to diversify its team.

    "We were surprised, we were disappointed," Gigi Vaffis, president of the docent council, said in an interview with radio station WBEZ of the firings. "There is an army of very highly skilled docents that are willing and ready and able to continue with arts education."

    The firings were apparently sparked by the fact that most of the docent staff was composed of older White, financially well-off women, the outlet reported. Stein said that the museum needed to take a new path "in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility."

    The Art Institute used to have more than 100 docents, 82 of whom were active, until an executive director of learning and engagement, Veronica Stein, sent an email on Sept. 3 firing them all, the Wall Street Journal reported. Docents are trained volunteers who lead tours of museums, and at the Art Institute, they averaged 15 years of unpaid service.

    _____________________________________________________

    Only one former docent agreed to speak with the WSJ for their recent report on the Art Institute's dismissal of the docents. Dietrich Klevorn, a docent since 2012, rejected the institute’s request that they not talk to the media. “We had to spend a lot of time physically in the museum studying works of art, researching, putting tours together.” “We had to be very comprehensive about everything as we talked with them (visitors to the museum), moving through the space.”

    Art Institute volunteers received rigorous training to become qualified docents. They protested their firing in a letter dated September 13, stating each of them had “engaged in eighteen months of twice-a-week training to qualify as a docent, five years of continual research and writing to meet the criteria of 13 museum content areas, and monthly and bi-weekly trainings to further educate ourselves with the materials, processes and cultural context” of the Art Institute’s collection.
    ________________________________________________

    The Chicago Trib weighed in on the controversial dismissals.

    Editorial: Shame on the Art Institute for summarily canning its volunteer docents - Chicago Tribune

    Anyone with some tread on their tires who’s been fired by email can recognize the protocol. The writer blathers on about your years of dedication to your job, their gratitude for all you have done for all this time, and then hits you with some self-justifying jargon: the need to “update systems,” maybe, or the need to “rebuild” or “better serve” someone or some group. These days, perhaps even in the name of “equity” or “inclusion.” By then you know what’s coming after all the disingenuous paragraphs: You’re canned, most likely in favor of a newer model.

    Just such a weaselly letter was sent out Sept. 3 by Veronica Stein, the Woman’s Board executive director of learning and engagement at the Art Institute of Chicago. The recipients were the museum’s 150 or so volunteer docents, a beloved mainstay of the venerable cultural institution for decades and the main providers of fine, learned tours to Chicagoans, tourists, students from Chicago Public Schools and myriad other visitors to our great museum.

    Once you cut through the blather, the letter basically said the museum had looked critically at its corps of docents, a group dominated by mostly (but not entirely) white, retired women with some time to spare, and found them wanting as a demographic.

    This is an absurdly reductive view of volunteering. The museum docents came from all walks of life and by no means were all of them either white or wealthy. Most of them long have seen themselves as liberals and progressive thinkers, arts lovers who have found their calling later in life and are fully aware of some of the things that have to change in museums. They just thought it would not have to be them.

    ______________

    The volunteer docents were dedicated and spent countless hours in preparation. They are a valuable resource and will be sorely missed until the short sighted museum director finds qualified replacement volunteers or or the funds for paid staff to take their place. Good luck with that.
     
    • Informative Informative x 7
  2. citygator

    citygator VIP Member

    3,917
    1,069
    1,568
    Apr 3, 2007
    Charlotte
    Seems misguided. They should seek diversity where they own the decision. Like for full time workers they hire or artists they showcase. Odd to seek diversity in your customers or volunteers who freely select you. Maybe I’m wrong.
     
    • Agree Agree x 11
    • Like Like x 1
  3. rivergator

    rivergator Too Hot Mod Moderator VIP Member

    31,458
    1,080
    2,258
    Apr 8, 2007
    Seems too radical and too rude. I understand the motivation, but the volunteers deserved better.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2021
    • Agree Agree x 10
  4. mutz87

    mutz87 p=.06 VIP Member

    37,539
    32,304
    2,696
    Aug 30, 2014
    Or have a plan that over time as docents leave, to increase that diversity.

    Def wrongheaded even if the goal is an admirable one.
     
    • Agree Agree x 5
    • Winner Winner x 2
  5. buckeyegator

    buckeyegator Premium Member

    4,601
    718
    538
    Oct 29, 2007
    gainesville, florida
    is there a record to show if minority candidates even wanted to do this? if none did, wtf?????
     
    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Wish I would have said that Wish I would have said that x 1
  6. BLING

    BLING GC Hall of Fame

    6,568
    445
    1,358
    Apr 16, 2007
    This would be the sane way to do it.
     
    • Agree Agree x 5
    • Fistbump/Thanks! Fistbump/Thanks! x 1
  7. buckeyegator

    buckeyegator Premium Member

    4,601
    718
    538
    Oct 29, 2007
    gainesville, florida
    sane, in chicago, where they lead the nation in murders yet their mayor says nothing is wrong, to quote john Macenroe " you can't be serious "
     
    • Dislike Dislike x 1
    • Off-topic Off-topic x 1
  8. mutz87

    mutz87 p=.06 VIP Member

    37,539
    32,304
    2,696
    Aug 30, 2014
    Where did lightfoot say "nothing is wrong?" This seems a likely mischaracterization.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2021
  9. 14serenoa

    14serenoa Living in Orange and surrounded by Seminoles... Premium Member

    4,530
    1,563
    463
    Jul 28, 2014
    let the previous docents 'mentor' the new hires...at least.
     
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
  10. Trickster

    Trickster Premium Member

    7,007
    1,741
    1,518
    Sep 20, 2014
    I wondered the same. Anyone could have applied, I assume. Not everyone can get through the training. I’m all for diversity in general. It’s enriching. But to fire them all in one fell swoop? Doesn’t that deprive visitors of an enriching experience? PC sometimes goes amok. This is one of them, it seems.
     
    • Agree Agree x 4
  11. Trickster

    Trickster Premium Member

    7,007
    1,741
    1,518
    Sep 20, 2014
    Murders aren’t a political thing, they aren’t the mayor’s fault. I want to like your posts, but not when you say things like that.
     
    • Disagree Bacon! Disagree Bacon! x 2
  12. WarDamnGator

    WarDamnGator GC Hall of Fame

    7,145
    657
    1,468
    Apr 8, 2007
    You can't even get your facts right, Chicago doesn't have the highest murder rate ... Chicago isn't even mentioned in this recent Fox article on cities with the most murders and violent crimes.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  13. flgator2

    flgator2 GC Hall of Fame

    2,201
    261
    468
    Apr 3, 2007
    You might want to drop this down to four paragraphs there's rules about this trust me I know
     
    • Funny Funny x 1
  14. duchen

    duchen VIP Member

    9,500
    3,348
    1,723
    Nov 25, 2017
    Wow. My former mother in law was a Docent at the Whitney in New York. They were highly trained and studied hard to guide guests and explain the artists or artwork being shown. All for the live of art. I enjoyed her tours.
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  15. duchen

    duchen VIP Member

    9,500
    3,348
    1,723
    Nov 25, 2017
    Continuing post 14. I had tickets to see Red on Broadway. A Tony winner (Eddie Redamaine) about the artist Mark Rothko. The Whitney was showing Rothko’s paintings and we went the day of the show for my exes mother in law’s tour. Really added to the experience.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. gatordavisl

    gatordavisl VIP Member

    21,587
    26,059
    2,018
    Apr 8, 2007
    northern MN
    • Informative Informative x 1
  17. docspor

    docspor GC Hall of Fame

    2,714
    992
    683
    Nov 30, 2010
    Veronica Stein sounds like a very Lazy-minded racist to me who should be insta-fired & forever shamed. But, her only punishment will probably come in the form of rotator cuff pain from patting herself on the back for "helping" those who she clearly sees as inferior & in need of her enlightened charity. &, even if you don't buy that haughty indictment, you can't deny that she sure as shit wants this to be all about her given the manner in which this curb-kickin' was carried out. I don't know if it can get more tone deaf. If you are this incapable of identifying a problem, you sure as shit shouldn't try to fix it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2021
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Informative Informative x 1
  18. danmann65

    danmann65 GC Hall of Fame

    1,261
    375
    403
    May 22, 2015
    My aunt was a docent at the Cai. I am glad she died before she was retired. I hope my 80 year old uncle doesn't get fired from his volunteer job at the Shedd.
     
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
  19. slightlyskeptic

    slightlyskeptic GC Hall of Fame

    1,828
    378
    173
    May 13, 2021
    This is the kind of stupid "one size fits all" stuff that is the product of woke liberal lunacy. Let's do the same thing with all hospital volunteers too. Makes as much sense. o_O
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Fistbump/Thanks! Fistbump/Thanks! x 1
  20. GatorBen

    GatorBen Premium Member

    5,074
    631
    1,083
    Apr 9, 2007
    Now that’s a bizarre story.

    Increasing diversity and inclusiveness at the museum is definitely an admirable goal, but I’m not sure how now not having any tour guides because the museum suddenly realized that the group of people with both the free time to learn about the museum’s entire collection and provide free tours, and the desire to spend their free time doing that, trended overwhelmingly towards older, affluent, non-working white women, is actually helping anything.
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Informative Informative x 1