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What Is a CAF Docent?

Posted on November 02, 2015

Wow, what a spectacular 2015 season! And a tremendous thank you to the stars of the show, the more than 100 Chicago Architecture Foundation-certified docents who led more than 2,000 river cruise tours this season. Their dedication and passion have led the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises to be named this year one of the “Top 10 Tours in the U.S.” by TripAdvisor.


So what exactly is a docent?
The dictionary definition of a docent is “a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis.” A more detailed description from CAF states “Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) docents are skilled ambassadors and educators. They develop and conduct public and private tours and serve as interpreters of Chicago’s architecture and its history.”

For 25 years, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises has been the proud partner of the Chicago Architecture Foundation in operating Chicago’s most beloved architecture tour. All docents are unpaid volunteers who donate their time simply to showcase their love of Chicago and to benefit the Chicago Architecture Foundation, as a portion of the cruise fee supports architecture education, provided by CAF.


What makes a good docent?
You do not have to be an architect, engineer, educator or public speaker to become an excellent docent. Docents come from all walks of life – from business executives and classical musicians, to architects and teachers. A few traits that all CAF docents have in common are their curiosity and interest in life-long learning, their passion for architecture and Chicago, their openness to feedback and their enjoyment in meeting and interacting with people from all over the world.


How do you become a docent?
Your first step to becoming a CAF docent is submitting an application. Information sessions are also held to learn more about the docent program. Once your application is approved, all docents-to-be go through a rigorous training program. The program gives new docents a broad understanding of architecture and architectural language, as well as the confidence and skills necessary to lead a specific tour.
Docents who pass training are now ready to give tours. All docents commit to giving a minimum of 13 tours during their first year, and then 10 tours annually every year after. River Cruise docents are not first year docents, but rather must have additional extensive training and multiple years of experience to conduct the popular tour.
Learn more about the Chicago Architecture Foundation and becoming a docent here.