Museum volunteers

When you step into the new $50 million Dallas Museum of Art you are made to feel welcome in gracious Texas style. The hospitality you feel is expressed not only by the paid staff but by one of the largest museum volunteer corps in the country.

At least 750 volunteers serve in the museum each month in an array of jobs that range from guiding tours, selling in museum shops, and staffing information desks to serving in the restaurant, working with children, serving in the newly expanded library, and taking art programs by van out into the community.

''Our museum sort of runs on its army of wonderful volunteers,'' says Harry S. Parker III, director. ''They bring a great sense of quality and enthusiastic and intelligent service to their jobs. People from all over the world who visit our museum's restaurant express their surprise and delight at the friendly welcome and assistance they receive there.''

Mr. Parker's sentiments are echoed by other museum officials across the country, who cheerfully admit the importance of their volunteer workers.

In the Dallas Museum of Art, Betty Robbins, chairman for the 80 women who work each week in the Gallery Buffet restaurant, says that not only do her volunteers serve, seat, and attend people, but they make a special point of greeting and talking with each individual visitor. ''Many people come here from other states and other countries and they need information about our community and what it offers, which we are always happy to give. We feel we are making friends for our museum and for Dallas.''

Mrs. Robbins, an airline attendant for Delta, must fit her volunteer service between flights, but she is one of the growing number of career women who still manage to give at least three hours of work each week to the museum. Volunteers represent all segments of Dallas society, from wealthy matrons to young working women. The corps now includes 15 retired men, as well.

Beth Beran, volunteer coordinator, supervises the entire operation and draws new workers from the 1,300 members of the Museum League, the volunteer arm of the museum. Mrs. Beran says many of these league members work on the annual museum ball, help produce and market the museum cookbook, and serve as special-event volunteers.

One hundred other volunteers serve as docents in the museum after a comprehensive training course under the supervision and training of Dr. Anne R. Bromberg, curator for education. Selected candidates train for two years in the docent program in order to give lively, informative educational art tours to museum visitors of all ages.

In addition, the Junior League of Dallas assigns 50 volunteers each month to work with children in the new Gateway Gallery, an educational wing that includes an exhibition gallery, orientation auditorium, and library. Junior League volunteers serve as tour guides for children and as workshop teachers who help children with hands-on art projects and other educational activities.

Louise Griffith, the Junior League's museum coordinator for the year just ending, said members raised $500,000 toward the building and equipping of the new Gateway Gallery.

For five years Junior League volunteers also staffed the ''Go Van Gogh Outreach Bus,'' which takes museum art programs into the community to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and recreational centers.

Museum director Parker says the new museum, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, has had more than 300,000 visitors since its late January opening date. ''Its volunteers have been vital to its smooth functioning,'' he says. ''They come to their jobs fresh and they make positive presentations that are the best kind of public relations that we could have.

''In Dallas we have discovered that the benefits we receive from our volunteer program far exceed the free hours of work that are given to us. Our volunteers tend to be the most active members of our museum, and also the best consumers of its lectures, courses, and special events.

''Financial need probably impelled many major museums to seek volunteer help, '' Mr. Parker concludes. ''And certainly our volunteers save us hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. But we feel a great multiplier effect from their unpaid service. And we benefit enormously from their fund-raising and friendmaking abilities. We pay a lot of attention to keeping our volunteers feeling involved and up to date about museum plans and programs, and to communicating our goals to them.''

Kathy Baldwin, volunteer coordinator of the DeYoung and Legion of Honor Museums in San Francisco, says she interviews and supervises about 620 regular members of the Volunteer Council (not counting those in the docent program) who give an average of 31/2 hours a week. These volunteers, both men and women, work in all public areas of the museum, and behind the scenes as typists, secretaries , and file clerks. The volunteers, ranging in age from 16 to 84, donate 55,000 hours of labor each year, a gift that saves the museum over $200,000 in wages.

''We have much more clout than we used to have,'' the coordinator says, ''because we have so many bright young people, students, and professional men and women now volunteering. We have so much talent that we gave ourselves a fictional raise recently from a minimum of $3.35 an hour to $5, because we think we are worth it.''

Judith Cook, executive secretary of the Friends of Art of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., says this museum draws its 500 volunteers and 155 docents from the 7,000 members of the Friends of Art, the local support group for the museum. Volunteers serve on 25 committees, run membership drives, plan special museum events, sponsor gallery walks, preview showings, and work in the rental and sales gallery, at the information desks, and in the coffee lounge. Members pay yearly dues of from $25 to $250, a portion of which goes into a purchase fund for new works of art.

At the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, several hundred volunteers are drawn from the Members Guild. Members pay $15 a year to belong to the guild, which is divided into three groups that serve different ages: the Junior Committee Guild, the Young Careers Guild, and the Suburban Art Guild. These guilds not only furnish volunteer workers for the museum but also sponsor antiques shows, white-elephant sales, preview parties, open-air concerts, galas, and other events which raise over $120,000 a year for the museum.

Beth Hoffman, director of volunteer services, says the Milwaukee Art Museum has had a volunteer program for almost a century and a very active one for 26 years. Today, approximately 1,200 men and women volunteers donate between 35,000 and 40,000 hours of work each year to the museum. ''Even at minimum wage, that represents a sizable chunk of change,'' the director says with pride.

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