The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center really values its relationships: with visitors, with artists, and with its volunteers.
“Many of the volunteers have been with us from the beginning,” said museum Director and Curator Jack Rasmussen. “We could not have opened the museum without them, and we could not be open today.”
The museum is the region’s largest university facility of its kind and has cultivated a unique relationship with its roughly 40 volunteers. Most of them live in the same zip code as the museum and have close ties with the university, either as alumni or as local artists. Their strong connection to the university art community allows them to spread the word about upcoming programs and events to communities off campus.
"The AU Museum has been an eye-opening experience for me,” said volunteer Sandy Zuckerman. “As a volunteer, I have gained knowledge and appreciation of contemporary art in all its media forms. The education program is excellent, and my fellow volunteers bring so much talent and companionship that the museum is not just a Kunsthalle but a second home."
Roles and Programs
Reception volunteers are the first to greet visitors as they enter the museum. Volunteers also serve as docents, leading tours for a wide variety of groups including visitors from high schools, senior centers, and DC art institutions. While docents learn about the exhibit from Rasmussen, they spend their free time doing extra research on each exhibition so they can provide visitors with up-to-date information and new perspectives about the art on display.
Many volunteers also play a strong role in designing and implementing museum programs. Volunteers work with Libby O’Kane, the museum’s visitor and operations specialist, to organize and run the Kids@Katzen program, which provides arts experiences and educational programming for children ages 5 to 12.
“The Kids@Katzen committee is bringing the message of Katzen to the next generation,” said O’Kane, who coordinates the volunteer program. “As part of a learning institution, education is an essential part of our mission.”
The volunteers are also very invested in their own learning. The learning program group, headed by volunteer Roxana Martin, works with museum staff to develop the annual agenda for volunteer education.
“Working to establish a learning program on contemporary art for the volunteers was a milestone. I was able to combine both my experience as an educator and my interest in art,” said Martin. “The program meets both museum and volunteer needs.”
Volunteers are provided with two educational opportunities each month. The first meeting consists of a director’s tour of the new exhibitions or lecture by a local art expert or artist.
The second meeting is a class, or a field trip to a studio or collection. The volunteers work with museum staff to suggest artists, speakers, and field trips.
"Being a volunteer allows me to flow in the currents of contemporary art, engage with the art-curious public, serially interact with the continually renewing crop of AU students—all quite invigorating,” said volunteer Ellen King.
Museum staff and volunteers both appreciate the unique artistic environment that is fostered through the museum. The staff members value the support and dedication of the volunteers, and the volunteers enjoy the chance to work alongside the staff and play an important role in the museum.
“The museum is a tremendous resource for the volunteers and the community…it’s a continually changing exhibition format, so there’s always something new to learn, something new to engage in,” said Marie Kissick, who has volunteered at the museum since 2007. “This is a unique opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with museum personnel and faculty, and we are given back just as much as we give as volunteers.”