Agnes Schipper – A dedicated volunteer

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By Diana Colson

Since moving here in 2013, Agnes Schipper has created an impressive record as a volunteer in Sarasota. A lawyer – and mother of four – who dealt with such clients as Duke University in Durham and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Agnes was not accustomed to having time on her hands before retirement.

She and her husband, John Carson, made six house-scouting trips to Sarasota, before moving here.

Agnes quickly found two niches in the Sarasota volunteer world which were appealing. The first was at The Ringling.

Agnes loves art!  Indeed, she minored in it in college and has visited most of the major museums in the world. She had always felt that art was a great way to learn about history.  She went to the Ringling organization but no docent opportunities were open, so she was accepted as an Ambassador and Special Events Assistant.  When a class finally opened to train docents for the Ca’ d’Zan, she seized the opportunity.  Agnes says, “It was a lengthy process: first a phone interview, then an in-person interview, then you are then asked to shadow a graduate docent, and finally the new class of docents is selected. Training for the Mable’s Tour required three months of training because it is fairly well scripted.  Each member of a new class is paired with mentor docent.  Mable Tours are capped at a maximum of 22. They run 4-per-hour in season and 2-per-hour in summer. 

“The John’s Tour includes Belvedere Tower and is capped at 8 people because of fire code and access to some of the smaller spaces visited on the tour.  The John Tour is less scripted and required an additional month of study.  During the course, you develop your own John’s tour.  You are evaluated to be cleared to do both tours”

For readers interested in becoming docents at the Ca’ d’Zan, a new class is being recruited to start in April of 2019.  The application deadline is February 15.

Agnes had been a docent there for about one year when a class started that trained docents for the Art Museum.  Now, this was a real commitment! It is a serious course of study much like taking a college Art History Course. The course takes one full year, which is tough if you are a snowbird. Being an education junkie, Agnes took the challenge. “We all have to learn a basic tour developed by the curators. Then you develop your own tour, selecting your own art objects, and are evaluated. Art Museum Tours are free with admission, and each tour is different from docent to docent.”

Agnes developed her own unique tours. One is called RINGLING PAIRS, in which she paired various paintings by style:  The Italian Pair, The French Pair, The Dutch Pair, and The Odd Couple – painted compositions of fruits and vegetables that look like people.  

Another tour she developed is called PORTRAIT PROPS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS. Historically, paintings were created to depict how a person wished to be immortalized. Wealthy and important people were sitting for these portraits, and carefully selected the backgrounds, costumes, animals, hats, props and locations to create the perfect desired setting and message  Agnes calls it “the photo shopping of its time.”

Another tour developed by Agnes is called VIRTUE AND VICE, which features paintings with a moral message dealing with the rewards of virtue and the price of vice. She also does a tour featuring so-called DANGEROUS WOMEN, starring various Bible characters such as Esther, Judith and Salome.

Docents are expected to volunteer for at least 75 hours per year and are limited to six years of service. The Museum Education Department is currently short on staff and time, so docents are not typically trained in new temporary exhibits. Instead, docents concentrate on works in the permanent collection, including more modern works. 

Ringling Art Museum Docents also do school tours.  Calendars are put out 2-3 months in advance, and volunteers sign up for their preferred shifts.  If a docent is unable to fulfill a planned commitment, he or she must recruit a substitute.

Recruitment for an upcoming Ca’ d’Zan docent class and for Family Programs is underway. To learn more, go to:

In addition to her museum work, Agnes Schipper also holds a second volunteer position in Sarasota, one that has far-reaching family ramifications. She works for the courts as a Guardian Ad Litem, which means she advocates for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

For more information about volunteering for the Guardian Ad Litem program go to:

In Agnes’s experience, a common denominator in most cases is drugs. In Agnes’ words: “Kids are the real victims of parental drug abuse. Anyone who has an interest in helping kids and families can do this kind of volunteer work.  They must visit the kids at least once a month and report their findings to the district court every three to six months.  They can participate in quarterly conferences with social workers and attorneys in the Guardian ad Litem program. They also check with schools, day care and health care providers to see that the children’s needs are being met. 

“The goal is to reunite the children with the parents in a safe and stable environment.  In such a program, parents must follow a one-year case plan to address concerns which led to the removal of their children.  The case plan can require that they take classes in parenting, anger management, and the like, and participate in treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.  In addition, parents are provided with a lot of social services to help them complete the case plan.  Parents must fulfill their plan in order to be reinstated with their children.”

The town of Sarasota benefits from the committed volunteer work done by Agnes Schipper.

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