A love of art, history, and education are what drew Sarah O’Koon to the Speed Art Museum where she works as a volunteer docent. Looking back over her life, it seems inevitable that she would choose to spend her time among the beautiful exhibits, bringing them to life for visitors.
Sarah moved from North Carolina to Louisville and started teaching history at the Louisville Collegiate School. Then after her son was born, she spent time creating the Cardinal Kitchen business with her husband Chuck. In her early 40s, Sarah decided to follow her art passion – and graduated from the University of Louisville about 10 years later with a Master of Fine Arts and became an art therapist. After retirement in 2012, a friend who volunteered at the Speed encouraged Sarah to apply to the year-long docent training program.
Why is the Speed Museum a good fit for you?
As a history teacher, painter, and art therapist I understand and have a real appreciation for art and what it can do for people, and how it can be used as a tool to heal. I knew I had all these skills and a love of art and now I can put it all together. As a docent you can choose which exhibits and tours you’d like to lead. My interest is in the special (temporary) exhibits. It allows me to learn and explore something new and then share it with visitors.
Other art-related work?
My husband Chuck and I are also members of the Contemporary Art Collectors group. The group travels with the Speed curator once a year to view pieces and consider which to purchase. We haven’t been able to go on all the trips, but the curator will bring back pieces to show the entire group. We research the pieces and then vote on which we think the curator should purchase. My husband and I love to travel and have been collecting art for more than 20 years.
Can you share a favorite memory?
In 1993, we took a trip to New York (with the Contemporary Art Collectors) to visit the studio of Black contemporary artist Lorna Simpson. The year before, the group had purchased one of her pieces, Same, which is a photo series that addresses the facelessness of Black women in society. That trip was instrumental in our feeling personally involved in the acquisition of an important piece of art at the Speed and our deep interest in seeking out contemporary art wherever we traveled.
How has volunteering enhanced your life?
The lectures at the Speed allow me to continue to learn about art and history. Keeping your mind active is important. It also provides me with an outlet to meet other people who share my interests. We have 60 docents at the museum, and most are in their 60s and 70s (Sarah is 77.). We all say we’ll be volunteering into our 90s. It’s a different sense of life expectancy when you feel so alive every day.
By Kym Voorhees Raque | Photos by Patti Hartog