Docents are individuals who volunteer to connect art to visitors. Docents are volunteers that provide tours to the many visitors of the David Owsley Museum of Art. Here at DOMA we have an enthusiastic group of volunteer docents who are passionate about bringing art to the community through their well-prepared tours. This is a letter to the David Owsley Museum of Art docents:
Happy National Volunteer Week!
Beginning in January, I became one of the education interns here at DOMA. With that responsibility came the pleasure of participating in the Docent Learning Program along ide many of you. After a semester of getting to know you, I am truly grateful for all that you do.
I just wanted to say thank you for all the time, resources, energy, and brain power you put into being a docent here at the David Owsley Museum of Art. You each willingly give up an hour and a half each and every week to participate in the Docent Learning Program; you observe tours; you do extensive research both at the museum and on your own; you prepare your tours, putting in hours of planning; you are the heart of this museum. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
William Shakespeare once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I would say that you all have found your purpose, as you are using your gifts as docents to serve the public and support the David Owsley Museum of Art. Ball State students and the Muncie community are so lucky to have you as part of their DOMA experience. Last year alone, DOMA docents provided 247 guided tours, serving a total of 8,637 individuals, a new record for the museum. That number is ever-growing and would not have been possible without volunteer docents, like you, so again I say, thank you!
The newest member of the David Owsley Museum of Art Staff is Shannon Bryan, our new Administrative Coordinator. Shannon moved here nine years ago with her husband and two children.
Having a degree in History, she took a lot of Art History courses that contributed to her interest in working at the David Owlsey Museum of Art. So going to work at DOMA was like “going back to where she has been.” She also enjoys the “enlightening and fast-paced thinking environment” that keeps her on her toes.
Thus far Shannon’s favorite part of being at Ball State University is the international outreach. For her it offers a sense of community and a new perspective. Mrs. Bryan’s favorite part about being at DOMA is working with the special events and supporting those events.
Shannon is particularly looking forward to seeing the culmination of everyone’s’ hard work on bringing Neda Wants to Die, a play written and performed in conjunction with the World Bank exhibit 1 in 3: What does it Take for You to Be Outraged, to Ball State University. The play was performed April 14 and 15 at 6 pm in the Recital Hall, across the hall from the museum’s north entrance. The other event that she is looking forward to is Art in Bloom, a fundraising event held on May 20 featuring floral displays inspired by works of art from the museum’s collection. Mrs. Bryan is looking forward to the community involvement for this event and expresses her love for seeing the melding of community, fine arts, craft arts, and business all into one amazing event.
When asked who her favorite artist or artwork is she responded that she prefers the creative process to having a favorite artwork. Mrs. Bryan likes to look at what was done to create a work and then understand the process.
All of us at the David Owsley Museum of Art would like to welcome Mrs. Shannon Bryan!
The museum was dressed up in holiday style for the Friday with Friends event on December 5th. There was food and music as members of the Friends of the Museum and presenters mingled around the Marjorie Petty Harper Sculpture Court. To start off the program, Micaela Basilici sang the aria Quando M’en Vo’ from La Bohème, an opera that Ball State will be putting on in the Spring. The performance dates are March 27 at 7:30pm and March 29 at 2:00pm in Sursa Hall. I talked to Micaela after her performance about La Bohème. She explained the story, which takes place around Christmas time in Paris and follows the lives of four bohemians as they experience life, love, and tragic ends. She also told me that the Broadway musical Rent is based on the story of La Bohème. Jerome Herron, who had sung in La Bohème in the past, said “her aria was beautiful.” Another guest, Marcia Wade, said, “to think of this talent in Muncie, Indiana.”
After the magnificent performance by Micaela Basilici, members of The Infinite Museum presented their interactive website which brings a new dimension to the museum experience. They spoke about wanting to take a different approach to museums and produce something that will allow visitors to think about art in new ways and be transformed by art. Their website give the viewer prompts that relate to an artwork on display in the David Owsley Museum of Art. The visitor can then answer the prompt and see others’ responses. The prompts take the viewer away from traditional ways of thinking about art and allow them to think about connections, moral codes, an alternative meaning for the artwork, or the feelings of those in the artwork. The students told me that their intended audience for their website is Ball State students as they come individually to the museum for research. Although students are the Infinite Museum’s target audience anyone can use the website, which can be found at www.theinfinitemuseum.com.
I’d like to invite everyone to visit the museum during winter break. The museum will be open regular business hours, 9 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday and 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm Saturday and Sunday, for most of the break. However, the museum will close at 3 pm December 24 and December 31. All campus offices will be closed on December 25, 26, and January 1.
The David Owsley Museum of Art has made some astounding changes recently; from the opening of the new galleries last year to the hiring of a new director, Robert G. La France, this year. After La France settled into the office this past week, I asked him a few questions about his position and took a stroll with him through the galleries.
Amanda Knigga: What does your position as director at the David Owsley Museum of Art fully entail?
La France: The job of director entails overseeing all aspects of the museum’s operations including collection management, art acquisitions, research, publications, education, student engagement, exhibition planning, management of budget and staff, donor cultivation, fundraising, and public relations. But that answer sounds too much like an official job description. In other words, a good university museum director plays many roles including that of scholar, teacher, mentor, coach, manager, and impresario. And that’s what I intend to do.
AK: Could you summarize a trajectory of your previous educational experiences, studies, and positions that led you to your new position as director?
La France: I suppose it began with undergraduate art history courses at Cal State San Bernardino, a public university about the same size as Ball State. I spent my junior year in Florence, Italy, and returned there to earn a master’s degree at Syracuse University’s program. I’ve held internships at the Getty in Los Angeles and received a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. My professional experience combines academic, museum, and university museum work at institutions such as CASVA at the National Gallery of Art, Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, and a fellowship at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti. I’ve organized exhibitions and published several articles and a book on European art topics ranging from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, and even edited a volume on an American sculptor. To make a long story short, all of these and several other experiences prepared me to research and write about art, work closely with scholars, manage budgets, create exhibitions, and engage with museum audiences.
AK: Could you tell me what your initial impressions of the DOMA collection are?
La France: I was surprised and deeply impressed. I make it my business to know the university and public collections in the Midwest, and I hadn’t heard about the Owsley before I first visited in the fall of 2013. That’s because even though the museum has older roots, the name is quite new and, frankly, it acquired a large portion of the collection only recently. The quality of those acquisitions is extraordinary. As the name implies, many are gifts from David Owsley, who brought his own curatorial experience to his collecting and helped to expand the museum’s scope to encompass several centuries of art from around the world. In addition, former Director Peter Blume, Associate Director Carl Schafer, and Exhibition Designer Randy Salway did a wonderful job planning, building, and installing the multi-hued galleries in a way that suits the building’s distinctive Gothic Revival architecture.
AK: What are some of your intentions or aspirations for your time here as director? What would you like to see happen?
La France: I’d like to see the David Owsley Museum of Art’s collection recognized not only locally, but also throughout the region and nation. But the outcome of this aspiration depends very much on the museum’s financial and human resources, so I can’t elaborate until I’ve had a chance to discuss future goals with the university community.
AK: How would you like to see the collection grow?
La France: It is growing every week, with new purchases, donations, and especially gifts from David Owsley, a great patron of the arts and a scion of the Ball family. I look forward to working with donors, Ball State faculty, and museum staff to continue to refine and strengthen the collection
AK: How would you like to see an increase in student and community engagement happen?
La France: I believe—and I’m not alone in this—that the museum is bursting with potential for transformative encounters between students and art. They already happen regularly when art history, art education, studio art, and other classes are taught in the museum. But they also occur when faculty and students in fields as diverse as rhetoric, gender studies, history, all of the sciences, and mathematics use the collection to hone observation skills and stimulate critical thinking. The Owsley is also an important part of the Muncie and ECI community, and a resource for all residents from K-12 students to young professionals and seniors.
AK: What are a few of your favorite works of art in the collection? Could you elaborate a bit on what draws you to favor these pieces?
La France: It really is too early to tell. I’m sure I’ll have a new “favorite” at least once a week, but here’s a few. I am of course attracted to the Italian Renaissance portrait of a lady by Domenico Puligo(1492-1527); I’ve known this painting from poor photographs, and finally had a chance to see it in the flesh. It is a brilliant demonstration of sixteenth-century Florentine fashion and manners. I am also enamored by the lovely French Rococo Fête champêtre (a painting of well-dressed, amorous couples cavorting in a pastoral landscape) by Jean-Baptiste Pater(1695-1736), which just entered the collection. I had seen this jewel offered at auction and lost all hope of finding it again—only to discover that David Owsley had purchased it for the museum. I am spellbound by the monumental, mystical head of the Bodhisattva Maitreya from China’s Song Period (960-1279 CE). It’s another Owsley gift that recently entered the galleries. Maitreya is associated with the future and love—and those aren’t bad things to contemplate. I am also drawn to the incredible profusion of imagery carved into the elephant tusk from the African Kingdom of Benin. The South Asian collection is studded with gems, like the little seventeenth-century ivory carving with Christ as the Good Shepherd from Goa, India; and I haven’t yet mentioned the stunning Pre-Columbian art or the virtuoso treatment of light and atmosphere in the American Impressionist paintings. I have too many favorites to choose one, or even a few. It’s like asking a parent to name his or her favorite child!
When asked why students should come to the museum and what it has to offer for them La France responded, “The museum provides a direct, authentic experience with quality works of art that communicate across time, geography, and cultures. Skipping the museum and looking at images of art on the web is like watching a ball game on TV rather than actually playing the game. Go to the galleries. See how these objects are actually made, how big or small they are, consider why they exude such power, and why they’ve been preserved for ten, a hundred, or a thousand years. You can also learn something about Buddhism, meditate in one of the weekly sessions, and sketch in the galleries. Build your skills in the arts of observing, describing, researching, and persuading through looking closely at art. I also believe that experiencing art from around the globe in a museum expands a student’s cultural horizons and promotes new ways of perceiving the world. These are just a few of the reasons to come to DOMA. It’s also a great place to go on a date (and it’s free).”
Be sure to stop by with a friend or date to sketch, meditate, or get a bite of culture in the galleries you may not have known were here!
The docent learning program is made up of students as well as campus and community members who have volunteered their time to lead tours and discussions in the museum. Senior Jordan Thomas is one such docent. Thomas has been volunteering at the museum for 3 years and is an art history major here at Ball State. I sat down with Thomas to learn about the kinds of experiences she had to share about her time here at the museum.
KN: How long have you been a docent?
JT: Three years.
KN: What is your favorite tour?
JT: I enjoy giving tours for kids about Greek and Roman Art.
KN: What is your favorite work of art in the collection?
JT: I really enjoy the sculpture Invocation by Theodore Roszak. My favorite special exhibitions were Shout Freedom and The Wrocław School of Printmaking.
KN: Why do you volunteer?
JT: I first saw an email about the docent program as a freshman. I had taken the first art history survey classes as an Art Education major, and went to the call out meeting. I decided to get involved and went through the two semesters of training. It was actually my experience as a docent that prompted me to switch my major to Art History. It fostered my appreciation for art and gave me a much wider understanding of it.
KN: What is one thing you enjoy about volunteering as a docent?
JT: People would probably think it would be the actual act of giving tours, but my favorite part of being a docent was always the weekly meetings. I came back for that feeling of being inspired and enlightened, always learning about new art, engaging in discussion with other people who cared about these things, and then turning around and getting to share this new found love with the public. It has been a very rewarding experience.
If you are interested in joining the Docent Learning Program, check out this link to find out how you can get involved at the David Owsley Museum of Art. Call-out meetings are typically during the first week of the fall and spring semesters.