When Barbara Lurie retired from teaching 15 years ago, she wanted to find ways to continue learning and teaching others.
She became a volunteer usher at local art organizations like the Cleveland Play House, Cain Park in Cleveland Heights and the Cleveland Museum of Art. And additionally, at the art museum, she serves as a docent – giving tours and interacting with locals and visitors, showing them the best Cleveland has to offer artistically.
“These places bring a lot of people to Cleveland and show them how great the community can be,” Lurie said. “I’m not an artist myself, but I am an appreciator of the arts. I can’t even draw anything, but I have learned a great deal and appreciated a great deal of art. That is really fun to share with people. It makes a huge difference for people who visit the museum.”
CJN: Why did you want to become a docent?
Lurie: I would say that not just myself, but other docents too, we often come from a teaching background. Being a docent is like being a teacher. You help people connect with the museum and art, so it’s like teaching with a social component. It’s a great group of people who are fully dedicated to learning as much as they can. As a docent, we’re always being educated further whenever a new exhibit comes or a gallery changes. I love it.
CJN: What compelled you to spend your retirement as a volunteer?
Lurie: I’ve been blessed to be healthy and active, and I realized I had plenty of time going forward. I knew I wasn’t going to do nothing. It was something I was always interested in. And volunteering as an usher, I had friends who did it and loved it. When I had new free time, I was happy to do that to see everything happening downtown.
CJN: What’s the best part of volunteering for you and what inspires you to continue?
Lurie: It would be hard to choose the best part. It is wonderful being so current on everything new coming to the art museum. But being retired, I love the interaction with people, enjoying art and hearing their views. So, it’s a social aspect as well. And during the pandemic, that was something I missed. But when the museum was closed, we were still really busy online with Zoom get-togethers and virtual tours. All the learning still went on.
CJN: How does your Jewish identity fold into your volunteerism?
Lurie: This is sort of formative at the moment, but there is a group of docents who are always looking for new subjects to tour. One we’re currently working on right now, as our own project outside of the art museum, is the relationship between art and religion. We’ve been going to various houses of worship, and we’ve gone to The Temple-Tifereth Israel and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. We’ve been exploring the idea of Judaica and where it is in collections. Not all museums have it, and I don’t think the Cleveland Museum of Art has any. That’s kind of an offshoot of what we’re looking to do at the art museum.
CJN: Why is it important for Clevelanders to give back to their community?
Lurie: I think that it is a two-way street. I get much more than I give when I volunteer. I’m not saying I do this to do good, it is just part and parcel of the whole experience. I’m just happy to do it and it’s very rewarding. Other people will realize the same thing once they start volunteering.
Before the pandemic, Lurie said she loved traveling and it is something she’d like to get back to once she’s safely able.
“That is certainly something I’d like to get back to,” she said. “It certainly enhances everything I do in my work at the museum.”
When it comes to volunteerism, she’s unsure if she’ll pick up any new activities. But, the future is unknown, she added.
“This is kind of late in the game in terms of taking on new activities, and it took several years of preparation at the museum to even become a docent,” she said. “So, to go in another direction hasn’t presented itself to me yet. I wouldn’t be averse to something new.”