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Volunteers Gone Wild

Source: WS Journal Illustration: Morgan Schweitzer

Ellen Gamerman, Docents Gone Wild, The Wall Street Journal 24 June 2015

Arts-loving retired baby boomers are hustling to volunteer as museum tour guides—but they sometimes go rogue, touching the art, misstating facts and committing other infractions.

Kat Braz, a graphic designer from West Lafayette, Ind., was visiting the Iolani Palace in Honolulu this past December when she said a guide scolded her for straying from the group. The docent, an older man in a Hawaiian shirt, insinuated that certain people on the tour were fat, she said, and mocked them for not knowing obscure historical trivia. Ms. Braz, 35, couldn’t wait for the experience to end. “I’ve never had anybody be so rude before,” she said.

More arts-loving baby boomers—educated, experienced and recently retired—are hustling to become museum tour guides. The number of volunteers ages 65 and older is projected to climb nearly 23% to 13 million in 2020 from 10.6 million today, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency focused on volunteering.

Yet while institutions say they welcome this new wave of graying volunteers, behind closed doors some museum staffers are growing impatient with docents flouting their supervisors, misstating facts, touching the art, and other infractions. “There’s been an uptick in ‘docents gone wild’ moments,” said Maggie Guzowski, who runs the arts-employee blog “When You Work at a Museum.”

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