My Volunteer Work at Ateneo Art Gallery
When I was asked to be a tour guide, as early as my second day as a volunteer at the Ateneo Art Gallery, I was more surprised and excited than I let myself express. I tried to play it cool. I said yes, of course. I expressed my desire to someday work in a gallery after all, and I got the chance to observe a tour prior to my first day. I just didn’t expect to be leading a tour on my second day. At first, one of the staff from the gallery observed as I conducted the tour. After that, I would lead the tour on my own.
As it turned out, the thought of being a tour guide is just as fun as actually being a tour guide, at least in my experience. There’s nothing like sharing something you’re passionate about, which in my case is art. When you’re passionate about something, no one has to tell you to talk about it.
But it can be really daunting. As a tour guide, I had to literally think on my feet, as the audience could have some pretty out-of-the-box questions. I’ve given tours to grade school and senior high students, and in both scenarios, I was afraid they’d know more about the artwork or the context of the artwork than I do, even though I was given a script. And yet, I am surprised by the insights and side comments I hear. I am reminded that my job is not solely didactic. As the tour guide, I can ask the audience questions, which they appreciate as they also wish to share what’s on their minds. It actually makes the experience more memorable for them, because they were able to contribute to the discussion. What kind of tour guide are you when you are the one learning from your audience? Well, that’s the best part, if I may say so myself. As many would tell me, “You learn best by teaching”. Thankfully, I never reached a point where I had to steal a line from one of my teachers that my classmates hate to hear, “I don’t know. Maybe you can do research on that. That’s your assignment”. Who wants extra assignments with no credit anyway?
Each guided tour is a slightly different experience for me. Frankly, the thought of being bored with the same tour has never crossed my mind. With each new group is a new profile of the audience. It was my job to assess how to approach each audience differently. What kind of questions can I ask this group that I wouldn’t ask the previous group?
Of course, there’s the pressure (and temptation) of appearing knowledgeable. In this case, I have found that my favorite phrase to deflect attention from myself is, “Now let me turn your attention to this artwork”. I realized that if I outshine the artwork, then I have clearly failed.
Aside from leading tours, I had to organize the artists’ profiles and record condition reports which is basically taking photo documentation of the artworks and inspecting them for even the slightest damage as those would be charged to the gallery if it turned out that the artwork was in better condition prior to its ingress. I had to learn to discern between types of discolorations and subtle differences in jargon all of which pertain to cracks. Honestly, I am no expert at this.
I also got to collaborate with the other volunteers and interns to plan a themed tour, in which we select a number of artworks that each of us will discuss under a theme of our choice. The only part that I enjoyed more than conducting a scripted tour was planning my own tour. Given the time constraint, we decided that the theme would simply be social issues, but that is for another article.
Looking back, my two months of volunteer work went by really fast, and if I had the chance to do it again, I know I would. Just being surrounded by great artworks three days a week left me brainstorming for my future art projects. I now have three new favorite artists. And I now get to say that at least at some point in my life, I got to be a tour guide, along with the other hats I wear.
Of course, my reflection will not be complete without mentioning my favorite artwork. My personal favorite is from the permanent collection Love it, Leave it. It is “Spring” by Raffy T. Napay, a colorful tapestry, and pots made from yarn made to glow using ultraviolet light. I call him “the artist who is allergic to conventional art” because I then learned that the reason the artist used these materials is that he is allergic to paint. Before my eyes is a wonderful realization of what beautiful things we too can accomplish if we don’t let our limitations keep us from pursuing our passion.
Ateneo Art Gallery is the first museum of Philippine modern art. It is open Monday — Saturday 9am — 5pm.