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Volunteers are integral to our work at the Agnes, from those who serve on the Advisory Board to others who offer gallery tours, support creative studio sessions, expand gallery outreach, or assist with collections. Members of the greater Kingston and Queen’s communities are invited to be involved. We offer a variety of volunteer opportunities to participate and gain meaningful arts experience.

As part of Queen’s 175th anniversary, we are featuring stories from past docents, under the heading “Celebrating Student Docents.” See the notes below.

Celebrating Student Docents

As part of Queen’s 175th anniversary, we celebrate the student volunteer docents at the heart of our outreach programs through a series of profiles. About 690 Queen’s students from a range of disciplines have participated since 1980! For this project, we reached out to former docents, inviting them to share their stories and reflect on their experience at the Agnes. See below for a sampler of sixteen responses. We are grateful to Stefanie Turmel, a former student docent herself, who contributed volunteer time to work on this project.



AllanDr. Scott Allan
BA, Art History/English Literature, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1995–1997

Associate Curator of Paintings
J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, CA

My first taste of museum work was as a docent at the Agnes, and it was a truly formative experience for me. The intensive training sessions fostered a great sense of camaraderie among the docents, and the actual gallery teaching, at once very challenging and rewarding, took me far outside of my comfort zone. I came away totally convinced of the value of the first-hand experience of works of art and the importance of making them accessible to all kinds of audiences, and that’s ultimately what guides curatorial work at the most fundamental level too. So I couldn’t recommend the docent program enough, for an eye-opening experience, and, it has to be said, some hilarious thank-you notes. “Best $2 I ever spent,” from a financially seasoned second-grader, was all the validation I needed.


BruceTobi Bruce
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1987–1989

Senior Curator, Canadian Historical Art
Art Gallery of Hamilton
Hamilton, ON

I began my involvement with museums and galleries at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre while still an undergraduate in Art History at Queen’s. When I look back now, I realize that the Agnes opened every possible door for me. I began volunteering as a docent in my second year and now recognize how much that program’s rigour and expectation trained me for my future work. Following graduation I was fortunate enough to be hired for several contracts that broadened my gallery experience, including working with the Agnes collections and curating my very first exhibition. The Agnes continues to inspire and lead and I was very lucky to have had the privilege of being involved there so early in my career. It continues to set the bar very high.


Phoebe CohoePhoebe Cohoe
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2010–2011

Visual artist/Arts education
Kingston, ON (studio at the Tett Centre)

The docent program at the Agnes was a valuable asset to me as a fine art student in that it both broadened the application of my studies in visual art and art history, and linked art history and art practice in a very accessible way. I enjoyed the combination of teaching children about different art forms and artists that they may not otherwise have been familiar with, and creating works with them inspired by what they had learned. I think the connection of these things helped inspire my thesis work which explored imaginative creation and play, and later lead to my education degree with a specialization in Artist in Community Education. The Agnes was the first place I learned about arts education in action, and I am grateful for the training and opportunities I was given in the program.


EichhornVirginia Eichhorn
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1981–1986

Director & Chief Curator
Tom Thomson Art Gallery
Owen Sound, ON

I look back fondly on my days as a docent at the Agnes. It was there that I first had the opportunity to learn about and to experience what working in a public art museum is all about. My first position after graduating was at the ROM in the Exhibit Design Department. I was thrilled when I was called for an interview and even more excited when I got offered the position. I did, however, ask on my first day as to how I got hired when I didn’t have the exact qualifications they were looking for. I was told that in fact I DID have the qualifications – that all my time docenting and working at the Agnes counted. It didn’t matter whether or not it was volunteering, it was about gaining the experience. Thanks to the Agnes for providing such challenging and rewarding opportunities, which have multiple benefits for the participants, through the docent program!


HaleDr Catherine M. Hale
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2002–2004, Head Docent 2003–2004

Phyllis Wattis Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Centre for Visual Arts at Stanford University
Stanford, CA

The Agnes Student Docent Program is a model for fostering student learning and leadership at Queen’s. As an undergraduate student, it ignited my passion for interdisciplinary inquiry through art objects, introduced me to African arts (which later became the subject of my doctoral studies at Harvard), and gave me practical experience that led to future opportunities in museum work. I credit the personal and professional experiences I gained early on in the Student Docent Program at the Agnes with opening up the path to where I am today.


HolmesCarolyne Holmes
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1994–1995

Managing Director
Two Rivers Gallery
Prince George, BC

I often look back fondly at my time at Queen’s and with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre Student Docent Program. While working on my Master of Museum Studies and as I entered my professional career in art education, I drew on my Agnes Etherington interpretation training again and again and have shared my learnings with so many others over the years. It has been amazing how many times throughout my career that I have run into fellow Agnes Etherington docents and shared memories of the program and the Art Centre.


LeitchFynn Leitch
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2002–2003

Curator, Art Gallery of Peterborough
Peterborough, ON

When I first applied, I didn’t even know what a docent was! It was my first experience working in a real gallery and offered a window into the way exhibitions are put together and presented for the public. I made lifelong friendships and gained valuable insight on engagement, education and volunteer management that I use to this day.


MansfieldDr Stephanie Mansfield (Korczynski)
BA, Art History and B.Ed., Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2000–2003, Head Docent 2002–2003

Museum Administrator / Administratrice du musée
Shared Museum Resources Unit / Ressources muséales partagées, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services / Services parcs, loisirs et culture
City of Ottawa, ON / Ville d’Ottawa, ON

The docent program was without question the springboard that launched my museum career! Working alongside Pat Sullivan was invaluable and not only did it prepare me for future jobs in programming and education but the transferable skills gained as a student docent have stayed with me through graduate work and into the workforce. Over 14 years later I am still connected to many friends I made in the docent program both professionally and personally- it truly was the cornerstone on which my career was based. CONGRATS!


McKinleyKelly McKinley
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1987–1989, 1990–1991

Director, OMCA Lab
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland, CA

“Volunteer at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre?” I would never have imagined how that little poster on an easel in the foyer of Ontario Hall in 1987 would set me on the path to such an incredibly rewarding and exciting career and life in museums. I can still recall the thrill and joy of that first tour of Canadian abstract painting I conducted as a docent – witnessing the eyes and minds of 10-year-olds light up as they shared delight and insights well beyond their years into the paintings. That was it. I was hooked. The passion kindled at the Agnes has taken me on an academic and professional path in museums from Kingston on to Ottawa, London (England), Kleinburg, Toronto, Panama, New York, San Diego and now Oakland, California.



Photo: Brilynn Ferguson

Samantha Mogelonsky
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2004–2006

Manager of Marketing and Communications
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery
Oshawa, ON
Practicing artist with a studio in Toronto:

Volunteering at the Agnes gave me a window into the world of museums and galleries. Working as a docent taught me how to contextualize exhibitions and relate the programming to a variety of ages and abilities, which has been very valuable in my role as an artist and marketer, today. Through my experience at the Agnes, I was able to gain more roles at museums in Canada and internationally. I loved volunteering and seeing the behind the scenes of the gallery!


 MoreheadDr Allison Morehead
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1994–1997, Head Docent 1996–1997

Associate Professor of Art History and the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies
Queen’s University

The Agnes docent program showed me how my studies in art history could transcend a personal passion to form the basis of a rewarding career teaching art and serving my community. I am forever grateful for those first experiences teaching in the gallery, which also offered much-needed escapes from the usual pressures of student life!


NicholasVanessa Nicholas
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2005–2007

Doctoral candidate in Art History and Visual Culture
York University
Toronto, ON

I remember working alongside peers in Student Docent Program at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre with fondness. Moreover, the valuable experience I gained delivering educational programs definitely helped me secure positions in visitor services and public programming at various institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the 53rd Venice Biennale, and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. The Student Docent Program is an excellent introduction to museum and gallery work, and I thank Pat for her enduring commitment to the Queen’s University students keen on pursuing this career path.


ReedRoy W.P. Reed
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1992–1993, 1994–1996

Elementary School Teacher
Petawawa, ON

Being a docent at the Art Centre was an invaluable experience. My classroom management and teaching style were both developed through tens of hours guiding total strangers through the exhibitions. This proving ground led to an incredible summer mentorship with Jeri Harmsen, whose recommendations got me into teacher’s college and a job at the AGO. I would not be the educator I am today if not for volunteering at the Agnes.


ShermanDr Allison Sherman
BA, Art History, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2001–2002

Graduate Chair and Director  of the Queen’s Venice Summer School
Queen’s University

Some of my first encounters with art occurred at the Agnes when I was a visitor to its galleries as a local public school student in the late 1980s. It left an impression, and a decade or so later I returned to campus as an art history major. In my final year of undergraduate study I volunteered as a student docent under the supervision of Patricia Sullivan. I benefited greatly from her wealth of expertise and she taught me so much about sharing my knowledge of art and passion for visual culture with the community. Indeed, many of the lessons I learned during my time as a docent helped to shape my teaching philosophy and pedagogy as a university lecturer. I enjoyed learning about the objects in the exhibition that was the focus of our tours – a wonderful show featuring some of the Inuit sculpture and prints in the Agnes collection. That was a time before we had a specialist in Indigenous art in the department, so it was also the only opportunity I had during my training to study works by Inuit artists. I later secured a part-time job at a fine arts shop that dealt in Inuit art on the strengths of my knowledge of its history and reception. Although I adored my time at the Agnes, my time as a docent also helped me to realize that my strengths and interests were pointing me in another direction professionally. The thing I liked best about being a docent was the opportunity it afforded me to teach, and this is why I resolved to pursue a career in education. I have never regretted that choice, nor the year I spent in the company of a wonderful group of like-minded people who were as excited as I was about art. We are so fortunate to be able to offer our students a chance for active, experiential learning at the Agnes. It is always my pleasure to be able to stress the extra special qualifications our student docents will bring to their graduate studies or professional lives when I write them letters of reference. This program will always have my gratitude and my enthusiastic support.


SmithDr Sarah E. K. Smith
BA, Fine Art, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 2003–2006, Head Docent 2005–2006

SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Transnational Studies Initiative
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

I have very fond memories of participating in the Student Docent Program during my undergraduate studies at Queen’s University. It was exciting to be a part of students’ engagement with the Agnes and its collections—helping them to think about works of art in new ways and at times, facilitating a student’s first museum visit. The program had a big impact on me, sparking my interest in curatorial work. I remember really enjoying the presentations by curators at the Agnes, which were a part of our training sessions. More broadly, volunteering as a docent allowed me to develop a familiarity with artworks and museum practices, which informed my subsequent work as a curator and art historian.



Photo: Tim Forbes

Colin Wiginton
BA, Art History and Drama, Queen’s University
Student Docent: 1987–1989

Cultural Director
Cultural Services, City of Kingston

Volunteering as a docent at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre when I was a student at Queen’s University proved to be a formative experience for me. I always loved the visual arts, museums and performing and being a docent allowed me to combine these passions in ways that were inspiring to me and helped me to inspire others. It also set me on a career path I never thought possible and, as a result, I got to work in public galleries for over 20 years alongside many great artists, curators, educators and mentors. A few years ago I changed tracks and have had to apply my experience in new ways as a civil servant but the skills I first learned as a docent continue to serve me well, as someone who has the ability to look at the world with a critical eye, engage people in thoughtful discussion, read an audience and seek out opportunities for shared learning. All things that have served me well over the years.


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The Agnes Society

The Agnes Society is a new group for members who want to actively contribute to the gallery’s work. Volunteer teams are being created to support and expand the gallery’s program capacity and outreach, enhancing its financial health and social energy. Joining our existing volunteers—presently numbering about 70—new teams will support a range of activities.

If you are interested in playing a role in coordinating the work of this group, please contact Jan Allen.

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Community Docents

A team of Community docents from Kingston and region offers tours for the general public and booked groups, including ESL and French-language groups, throughout the year. For those who love art and want to engage in life-long learning, this is a rewarding volunteer opportunity. Training meetings take place monthly on Mondays.

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Queen's Students

We welcome Queen’s students, undergraduate or graduate, who want to gain arts experience through volunteering. Whether you are interested in research, want to be involved behind-the-scenes, or like working with the public, there is an opportunity for you.

Apply to become a Student Docent by 9 September 2019.
Download the details.

Student Docents deliver school programs for local elementary classes during the week and assist with children’s art classes and family programs on weekends and during March Break. Our informative education programs, combining interactive in-gallery tours and studio art-making projects, offer a great opportunity for student volunteers to learn, to enjoy working in a team environment and to hone all-important presentation skills.


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