Museum guides have unique viewpoint

Posted on August 15, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun
SVMA’s museum guides on a group visit to Marc Katano’s studio in Sonoma.

Being a volunteer Museum Guide at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (SVMA) is a bit like getting free tuition to art school, teacher training, and continuing graduate education.

Kathleen Watson, who recently joined the Museum Guides says it is also where new guides are “welcomed into a group of people with like interests and a diversity of opinions.” Regina Kilgore, a veteran Guide, puts it this way, “we learn all about art and the different ways people understand and appreciate it; everything we do is an interaction around art.”

There are currently 16 active museum guides who are supported by museum staff. They undergo special guide training classes and ongoing practice and education with Margie Maynard, the museum’s director of education and public programs.

Guides also receive exhibition briefings and a range of presentations by Kate Eilertsen, the Museum’s executive director, as well as guest curators, artists, and art historians.

Guides meet up in smaller groups, informally learning from each other by sharing their experiences with visitors and the art on exhibit.  “It’s a part-time career, and if you love looking at art, learning about it, and discussing it, you will be a very happy museum guide,” says Karin Bartow, a guide since 2010.

Susan Bundschu, who joined the guide program in 2012, is “amazed by the transformation of the physical site for each show – the attention paid to detail and how subtly it all supports the art work.”  She also finds “the whole process of learning about the art engaging – from the exhibition ‘walk-arounds’ with the artists, through supporting events such as openings, roundtable discussions, suggested resource reading, guide practice sessions, to learning through the act of guiding, and, finally, through the visitors, … it’s all just fabulous.”

Museum Guides also provide support for the Museum’s outreach and marketing efforts, help staff the museum’s admission desk, assist with fund-raising events, and serve as ambassadors of art wherever they go.  Helping out beyond the minimum commitment of completing the training, attending briefings and monthly meetings, and guiding two or three times per exhibition, is completely elective.

For those who enjoy interacting with children, there is special training to conduct educational tours for the fourth and fifth grade students who all come to visit the Museum at the end of their in-school A.R.T.S. (Art Rewards the Student) program.  The Museum provides art teachers for this program that coordinates art and sometimes social science and history curriculum with a yearly exhibition.

This past spring, the guides engaged students around Roger Shimomura’s “Minidoka on my Mind” exhibition. Students also learned to write haiku and completed an art project, which was exhibited at the museum.

“Ultimately, the guides tell us that they volunteer gladly for the rewards of being engaged with art and those people who make and present it,” says Maynard. “And quite honestly, working with them is one of the best parts of my job here. They are an enthusiastic, talented group of people.”

To recruit new guides, the museum will hold a meeting on Sunday, September 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. An informational presentation and Q & A will begin at 2:30.  The nine-week training program for the new class of guides begins September 30.

For more information contact 939.7862 or

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is located at 551 Broadway and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.