Conversations

Q&A with Judy Ballah, Volunteer Docent

It’s National Volunteer Week, an important time to recognize the tremendous contribution made to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia by our many volunteers. We have over 175 volunteers working with at least 20 different areas and committees from special events, to Docents and Guides, to Board members. In 2015-2016, our volunteers contributed over 15,000 hours of their time, an incredible feat—and a remarkable gift to the Gallery and our communities. Thank you!

As part of our week’s celebrations, the Gallery hosted a private reception on Monday, April 11 to thank its volunteers, and today we’re shining a light on volunteer Judy Ballah, a long-time Docent with the Gallery. Find out more about her role, what it means to her, and what she’s up to when not sharing her time with us.

Volunteer Judy Ballah in Cadaques, Spain
Judy Ballah in Cadaqués, Spain.

What does the role of Docent encompass at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia?

The word docent is derived from the Latin to teach or to lecture. The Gallery uses this term to those who offer specialized tours for students of all ages. In the finest international tradition, our docents deemphasize the lecture component and instead use an interactive questioning technique with students. We try to bring the art to life, creating a personal experience for each viewer. Our docents meet each Monday morning for training in art and best collaborative practices for animating the art. During the school term, we each try to deliver one student tour per week.

 

Why did you choose to take on this role for the Gallery, and what does it mean to you personally?

After a wonderful career of teaching high school English and Drama I knew I wanted a retirement that offered continuous learning opportunities. More importantly, I did not want to give up the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of children. Although the Gallery thanks me for my volunteer role, the truth is that no matter how many hours I volunteer or how many tours with children I conduct, all for free, I still am indebted to the Gallery for what they have given back to me: top quality art training and a well-organized program that brings in students for me to teach. The ultimate and unexpected bonus has been the deep friendships forged in the docent group with wonderful people who love learning and playing with kids as much as I do.

Volunteers having fun during the Gallery's Volunteer Appreciation Reception
Gallery Volunteers at the lively Volunteer Appreciation event on April 11, 2016

People are busy. Why should they make time to visit the Gallery?

They should make the time because “busy” is just a way of saying you are filling your days. But what if you slow down and take time to look, to think, to imagine, to have conversations about ideas and images? What about noticing how light can make you feel, how shadows colour the snow, how a woman with no training and hands crippled with rheumatoid arthritis could make her world beautiful through the art she created daily, how standing in front of a piece of art with your kids or friends and asking “What do you see?” changes everything? Trading in “busy” for opportunities to see the world in new and illuminating ways is your reward for visiting the Gallery.

 

What has been your favourite work, exhibition or event at the Gallery? Why was is special or memorable for you?

The Joe Fafard exhibition (November 2008 to February 2009) was my first big show and it was wonderful. His sculpture brings to life ordinary people, historical figures and influential artists as well as endless animals in all their glory. With this exhibition I learned how to ask questions, how to listen to the wisdom in the children’s answers and how to play with them as I had them observe Fafard’s work of horses on the prairies and then imitate the horses’ movements. There is always something that excites me in the Gallery but I do remember fondly my first tours with the Joe Fafard exhibition.

 

When you’re not at the Gallery, what else are you putting your energies towards?

Enjoying the grandkids and the endless joy they provide and then spending each spring in Cadaqués, Spain with my husband. Cadaqués is an intimate village filled with artists, poets, musicians and dreamers; PicassoJoan MiróMarcel DuchampFederico García Lorca and John Cage are all part of the town’s rich art history. It’s also where Salvador Dali had his home for most of his life, saying the people and the light fed his soul and inspiration. I paint with an artist there and revel in the light, the endlessly changing sky, and our apartment that has the Mediterranean 15 feet under our front balcony and a funky local bar at our back door.

Judy and her husband in Cadaqués, Spain

Judy and her husband in Cadaqués, Spain.


Interested in volunteering with the Gallery? Visit our Volunteer webpage for more info!

Image Credit: 

Volunteer Judy Ballah at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.