Before you start a tour, remind yourself that the group brings their specific experiences and wisdom with them. Every tour is a learning opportunity, not only for the visitors, but also for you. Taking a moment to share that thought with the group sets the stage for the conversation to come. Docents and guides who achieve lots of engagement on tours often exercise cultural humility, freeing up the discussion to the group and remaining open to all perspectives expressed.
On the tour, it’s wonderful to provide exposure to a diverse set of artworks and cultures. However, avoid expectations that visitors know about the art from their perceived respective cultures. For example, do not direct questions about Chinese art solely to visitors you perceive as Chinese. Instead, allow all in the group to respond to questions.
As we become a more gender-fluid culture, we should use more inclusive and non-binary terms, such as “students,” “you all,” or “everyone.” Avoid using gender binaries (e.g., ladies and gentlemen) and asking gendered questions, such as directing questions only to women or men in the group (e.g., How many of you ladies would like to dress up like this? How many of you men like to go fishing in a boat like this one?).
When presenting a work by an unidentified artist, specifically identify the cultural group from which the belonging originates. Continue to reference the culture’s name in discussion, and avoid the use of “these people” or any terms that signify the culture as the “Other” in your facilitation. For example, here is how you could introduce a drum made by an unidentified artist: “The Kundu drum was made by an artist of the Iatmul people. The Iatmul live in Papua New Guinea and use hand drums to accompany clan songs performed at important community events.” If uncertain of the pronunciation of a culture’s name, check with IPE staff or your colleagues, as well as look online for pronunciation guides. Several volunteers have worked on great pronunciation guides, posted on the volunteer website, under Peer Sharing/Pronunciation Guides. To work on identifying implicit biases, check out Harvard’s Project Implicit.
Acknowledgment of biases or preferences
Docents and guides actively working to engage the entire group are also gaining awareness of their own biases or preferences. We are all human, and we all have biases, both explicit and implicit. Acknowledgment of that statement is one of the first steps to developing an inclusive tour. Perhaps you identify with the visitors who process information quickly and are first to raise their hands at each stop or offer an answer. Perhaps you continue to allow the same people to respond repeatedly because you dread silence or a sense of disengagement in a group.
Implicit biases are harder to identify as they are hidden to the conscious mind. In observations, implicit biases may sometimes be seen when docents or guides repeatedly pass over people of color, young people, or women who have their hands raised with the rest of the group. To work on identifying implicit biases, check out Harvard’s Project Implicit. At the end of the tour, a reflection on who participated in your group may also help you identify and disrupt patterns of unintentional bias. (See the Reflection section for some post-tour reflection questions.)
Knowledge of your group
Ideally, your tour contact will inform you in advance of any necessary accommodations within your group so you can plan accordingly to support any needs on the adult private tour. However, for a public tour, you have to be flexible and best accommodate any needs as the tour starts. You often will have a multigenerational tour, so you will need to adapt techniques and questions to engage both younger and older visitors.