What do Georgia O’Keeffe and the video game Minecraft have in common?
According to Frankie Mananzan, a third-year University of Virginia student, these are the kinds of questions she faces daily.
As chair of the Student Docents at The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA, Mananzan gives tours of the gallery spaces and engages with curious museum guests of all ages. Following The Fralin’s mission to embrace the validity of any visitor’s opinions on the art they encounter, some interesting comparisons arise.
The Minecraft comment came from a 10-year-old museum patron, and is a prime example of why Mananzan became a docent in the first place.
“UVA students are so thoughtful and so willing to engage critically with the work before them,” she said. “On the other hand, it’s so adorable hearing a 10-year-old tell me that a Georgia O’Keeffe painting reminds him of Minecraft because of the colors. And that’s valid!”
The student docent program, in its 31st year at UVA, makes The Fralin one of the few university museums with undergraduate students teaching in its galleries. According to Emily Lazaro, docent coordinator for the museum, the program is all about facilitating discussion.
“Docents create space for observation, interpretation and wonder,” Lazaro said. “Frankie and our student docents are adept at leading conversations that welcome ambiguity and dive into complexity – because works of art are often complex and ambiguous.”
An art history and global development studies double major, Mananzan’s three years of experience in the student docent program coincide directly with her professional aspirations.
“People sometimes ask me why I put my two majors together,” she said. “I’m interested in pursuing museum work, and these two majors together can form a comprehensive museum studies program.
“I’ve always felt that once you enter a museum space, you’re entering a different space. It’s a public space, but it’s also a space for learning, a space for discourse and a space to experience art.”
For Mananzan, museums represent a respite from the outside world, as well as a chance to engage critically with and discuss art.
Her favorite part of The Fralin? “When I think about The Fralin, I think about the entrance gallery,” she said. “That is the entrance point between the outside world and the inner reverence of the museum.”
The docent program at its core is a testament to The Fralin’s dedication to community and discourse.
“It might sound corny, but I really want the UVA community to know that the museum is for them,” Lazaro said. “In my opinion, works of art don’t have much meaning unless we activate them with our feelings, observations, thoughts, connections and questions. If you need a break, walk into the museum and see if there is something on the wall that surprises, challenges or comforts you. We would love to see you.”