When Frank and Gail Gilmore responded to a newspaper article seeking docents 23 years ago, it was their first step in an enduring commitment to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Through countless hours of service as docents, now known as tour guides, and Council volunteers, the couple has made VMFA’s educational mission their own. With their planned gift, the Gilmores will help ensure that the museum connects people with Virginia’s art collection for years to come.
While the term “docent” comes from the Latin word meaning to teach, VMFA’s tour guides continue learning long after their initial training. Some develop specialties that follow their own art interests, as Gail has done with the Fabergé collection, but all keep up with the museum’s new acquisitions, gallery rotations, and special exhibitions through ongoing lectures and workshops.
Over the years, Frank and Gail have accumulated a deep knowledge of the collection, its history, and patrons, which allows them to adapt their Highlights tours to each group’s interests and familiarity with the museum.
With school groups, which tend to focus on a specific area of the collection that matches their curriculum, there’s less flexibility but often a more visible impact. Third graders learning about the ancient world are especially enthusiastic. “All of a sudden, they make a connection and you can see that revelation on their faces,” says Frank.
After reaching the 20-year mark a few years ago, Frank stopped touring but still steps in for big projects like Fine Arts and Flowers, the biennial floral exhibition that is the Council’s major fundraiser. Gail has held several roles in the Council, including serving as historian and archivist for the 65-year-old organization, and is now co-editor of The Councillor newsletter and a member of the marketing committee for Fine Arts and Flowers. She continues to lead tours and acts as a mentor to two of the museum’s provisional tour guides.
When the Gilmores began discussing how to distribute their assets, a planned gift to VMFA was a natural choice. “There are so many worthy organizations,” Frank says, “but because of our long involvement with the museum, that’s where we wanted to make an impact.”
“We chose charitable gift annuities (CGAs) because we liked the idea of creating an income stream for our retirement,” Gail adds. “With a CGA, there’s a set return on your investment; you can depend on it.”
As they think about what VMFA might be like when their gift is realized, the Gilmores see a museum where everyone feels welcome and everyone can learn. “Becoming a truly inclusive museum takes time, but with VMFA’s efforts to reach out to the community and the state, the change is already underway,” Frank says.
“You can see it in the works that are displayed, the variety of people who visit and volunteer, and in the staff,” Gail says. “The more people who see VMFA as their museum, the more opportunities we have to connect people to art.”
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