In 1998, Mia hosted a special exhibition of paintings by Jacob Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight. Diane Levy, who supervised the museum’s tours at the time, and Josie Johnson, a trustee, saw an opportunity.
It had been clear for several years that the long and demanding process of becoming a docent, to lead tours of the museum’s collection, was limiting. People of color were especially under-represented. Levy and Johnson organized an advisory committee to recruit a new group of exhibit guides. They were called Lawrence/Knight Guides and spent six weeks, on Thursday nights, learning the special exhibition. Thirteen of the 20 guides were African-American.
The program was quickly broadened and cemented the following year as Collection in Focus, with 12-week trainings on Thursday nights and weekends in specific areas of the collection, starting with Africa. A flyer went out: “Are you interested in African art and culture? Want a chance to learn more about African art and give back to the local community? Want to meet others who share your interest?” The first group of recruits is shown here in 1999—many are still with the program, considered one of the most diverse of its kind in the country.
Jean Ann Durades has been a CIF guide since the beginning. You know Durades, or at least you’ve seen her: always in purple, ubiquitous at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, the Walker Art Center, and of course Mia. She calls CIF “a perfect program to help bring people from different cultures together” and believes the diversity of the guides “encourages people who may not come to the museum as a matter of course to get more involved.” CIF guides also staff the museum’s popular Art Carts. And if they’re trained in a collection area—Africa, say, or China—they can also train to lead tours of related special exhibitions, such as the recent Terracotta Warriors show.
Durades used to live three blocks away from the museum and visited maybe five times. That was before CIF. After 16 years, she’s now trained in every area of the collection, from China to the Americas to contemporary world art, and leads a few hybrid tours, too, about women in art and art beyond the West. She’s even taken a group to New York, as part of CIF’s broader mission of creating a tight group of long-term museum enthusiasts. “I joke to the staff, do I live here?” she says. “Can I have a cot to sleep on?”
For more information on the Collection in Focus Program, contact Volunteers@artsmia.org or call (612) 870-3176.