June 2, 2021

SMoCA Docents Reflect on the Digital Turn

When reflecting on the past year’s transition to digital programming and engagement, one docent referenced this simple yet profound idea, often attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Despite two periods of closure at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) due to the COVID-19 pandemic—from March to October, 2020, and from December, 2020, to February 2021—docents continued to enjoy memorable experiences through participating in a year of virtual learning and engagement opportunities.   

Beginning last summer, several docents researched and presented on how contemporary artists from around the world were creating art as a response to the multiple crises we all experienced.  Two docents reflected on the therapeutic nature of this activity during a time of social isolation.

“I learned a new tool with Zoom and felt actively connected and engaged with the group,” docent Mathilde said. “It was a more personal and intimate way to ask questions and for the docents to participate.”

Deborah, a docent who provided art historical context for the series of presentations, said, “Viewing the artists’ thought-provoking and creative art helped us talk about our own fears and concerns.”  

Deborah also reflected on another therapeutic, yet more solitary, art experience of watching a continuous livestream from James Turrell’s Skyspace Knight Rise (2001), located in SMoCA’s courtyard.

“At multiple times throughout the week, and almost every evening at dusk, I tuned in to watch the colors of the sky subtly transition from day to night,” Deborah said. ”I even got to experience the dawn of the Winter Solstice from the comfort of my home.”

Visitors to could see the James Turrell Skyspace Knight Rise livestreamed throughout the day during the winter solstice. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

As a group we were also able to travel on an art excursion via a virtual field trip to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where the Crystal Bridges docents provided us with an informative tour of contemporary art, architecture, and sculpture from the museum’s beautifully cultivated grounds—all via Zoom.

“I enjoyed the virtual tour of Crystal Bridges and have added that to my bucket list,” docent Shannon said. “I was  very taken with one of the contemporary art pieces titled Time for You and Joy to Get  Acquainted by Joo Young Choi. The name itself is a piece of art or at least a poem.”

SMoCA reopened in October with a new exhibition, BEYOND: Works by Nellie King Solomon and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, featuring mother and daughter artists. Two docents noted that being reacquainted with art in person was a special moment.

“My most enjoyable art related activity this past year was when I made a reservation to see the exhibition featuring Nellie King Solomon and her mother Barbara Stauffacher Solomon at SMoCA,” Shannon said. “I understood that I would be part of a curator-led group but did not realize that Nellie would also accompany us. Seeing Nellie’s large-scale paintings, as well as her painting tools that were arranged in a visually arresting way, watching her video, and being able to ask her questions was a many-layered learning experience that was very stimulating to me.”

Nellie King Solomon surveys her work in BEYOND: Works by Nellie King Solomon and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon.
Photo: Claire A. Warden. 

With a new exhibition open, but safety precautions such as social distancing still in place, we began utilizing technology to engage visitors. Over the course of the year, eleven docents created short videos with captions to be viewed via a scannable QR code located adjacent to the artwork. Docent Dena looked back at the process of video creation:  

Because the pandemic limited the docents’ ability to interact directly with Museum visitors, we were offered the opportunity to create a one-minute talk about one of the artworks in the current exhibitions to be videoed. I chose to craft a presentation on Red Mesa by Dorothy Fratt. It was wonderful to put my 15 years of experience as a docent into a new method of sharing information with the public. It was a challenge to try to say something meaningful and thought-provoking in one minute, but I am happy to say that I think I accomplished that. In fact, I almost did it on the first take! I talked about color and line in the abstract painting and encouraged viewers to look for the iconic feature of the Arizona landscape—the red mesa. It was neat to walk into the Museum, use my phone to snap the QR code, and see the results of my labors. I hope the folks who visited the Museum found it informative.    

Dena, SMoCA Docent
Hold your camera over the QR code to see Dena’s one-minute video on Arizona artist Dorothy Fratt.
Docents created one-minute videos to engage visitors. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

Along with gaining insights at virtual meetings from guest speakers such as Mary Erickson, who elaborated on the interactive Viewpoints theory for how we understand art, and Jennifer Dasal, who delightfully entertained us all with the background of her ArtCurious podcast, docents also engaged in their own art-making activities at home.

One docent commented: “As I age and become less connected to work and making a living I find that I am filling in the gaps with art. Making art by myself or with others is very gratifying. Painting during COVID-19 was calming and anxiety-alleviating.”

Another docent said creating art at home allowed her to experiment with new activities with her children. Docents found comfort in making art, as well as the ability to connect virtually with other art-lovers, reinforcing the power of art to express emotions, exercise the mind, and strengthen community.   

During the period of shutdown due to the pandemic, docent Shannon created the artwork At the Intersection of Naples and Sorrento. Image: Shannon Van Zutphen.

During the past year, in what specific ways did viewing or making art help you to make great memories and “wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life”?

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