The next time you’re in one of the Walker’s galleries, especially on a Thursday night, you might see a tour guide with an expression on her or his face that screams, “Talk to me.” Well, screams might be a bit strong. How about invitingly says? Art Chat is the next big thing in guided tours. At least, we’re hoping it might be.
On Target Free Thursday Nights and other bustling attendance moments Art Chat guides roam the galleries solo, approaching individuals or small groups to talk about whatever they’re encountering. Luanne Coleman, a 10-year tour guide veteran, was initially apprehensive about the looser format. “I thought it would be akin to cold-calling visitors,” she says, “but it’s been a lot of fun.” She tailors her talking points to suit whomever she engages and when she can’t explain a piece, she tries to help visitors develop their own interpretations. It’s about spontaneous conversations that can go deep or stay simple, offering a taste rather than a five-course meal.
Curt Lund, a guide since 2003, appreciates the flexibility of the Art Chat format. He can talk with people anywhere in the gallery and is a fearless leader when it comes to “busting the Midwestern ‘personal space’ bubble,” as he puts it. Lund has found that once patrons know the guides are available and approachable, “they’ll often invite you in.”
We live in a society where, most of us, are accustomed to getting our questions answered almost immediately thanks to our smart phones, our friends’ smart phones (if you’re a dinosaur like me), or the neighborhood café’s free Wi-Fi. Consider Art Chat guides your Bing or Google but with a pulse, smile and ability and willingness to customize on the spot. Oh, and they rarely mysteriously go off-line.