Docent chair, 2010–2012
Anita Bonanni first discovered the Memorial Art Gallery not long after arriving in Rochester. Transplanted from Brooklyn in 1962 along with her physician husband, she discovered that the Gallery was an affordable place for a young couple to spend a Sunday afternoon. What’s more, says Bonanni, “it’s a magnificent collection.”
But it would be a few more years before she could really indulge her love of art. The Brooklyn College graduate was already a mother of three (soon to be four) when she earned her masters in education at UR. She would go on to spend 20 years at Rush-Henrietta High School, where she taught reading to high risk and learning disabled students. After retiring in 2002, she gravitated back to the Gallery and joined the docent class of 2003–04.
“While you’re volunteering,” says Bonanni, “you’re learning. It’s one of the nicest aspects of being a docent.”
Above all, she loves sharing what she’s learned with tour groups, particularly schoolchildren. “It’s the kids who are the most enthusiastic,” says Bonanni. And the evidence is clear that the Gallery does a terrific job of reaching out to this audience; in 2009–10 alone 9,366 students from pre-K through high school participated in docent-led tours of the Gallery.
The excitement doesn’t stop after high school, as Bonanni’s husband can attest. A professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, Dr. Philip Bonanni has accompanied medical students on staff- and docent-led tours designed to help future docs sharpen their observation skills.
For adults, there are other innovative programs where the education department uses the docent corps to reach out to audiences ranging from corporate visitors to Alzheimer’s patients and other visitors with special needs.
The docent program began informally in the 1960s and officially kicked off in 1968 with the adoption of bylaws and the institution of formal training. Over the years, some 400 men and women, of whom 100 are still active, have led tours for more than half a million schoolchildren and adults.
Docents come to the program from many walks of life. Some are retired, and some juggle their docent responsibilities with busy professional lives. All share a love of art and a belief that life is richer for it. And all make a major time commitment—a year of rigorous weekly training followed by frequent refreshers and a minimum of 25 tours a year.
As chair, Bonanni works with other docent committee members and the Gallery’s education department to plan educational programs and social activities and the group’s semimonthly meetings. She’s also an ex officio member of the Gallery’s Board of Managers, where she represents and reports on the docents.
“I’m glad to be the face of the docents,” says Bonanni. “I represent a terrific group of dedicated people. And I can’t say enough good things about the Gallery’s education department. They keep us spoiled.”