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“I enjoy the people I meet on our tours, from all walks of life and all parts of the globe, all interested in learning about Chicago's architecture.” 

—Gabe labovitz, CAC Docent Class of 2008

What is a Chicago Architecture Center docent?

Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) volunteer docents are skilled ambassadors and educators. They develop and conduct engaging public and private tours and serve as interpreters of Chicago’s architecture and its history.

Our docents are an elite group of content experts. They are carefully selected and trained to serve as the face of an internationally renowned organization. Although CAC docents come from all walks of life, they share a few common traits. Each of our docent volunteers is a curious and creative lifelong learner. They are passionate about architecture and Chicago. They are flexible and open to feedback, and enjoy interacting with people from all over the world.

Applying to be a CAC Docent

Applications are open year-round. Applications are evaluated and candidates are invited to interview. We hold interviews approximately once each month and candidates who pass the interview screening are invited to participate in our next docent class. Docent classes are typically held starting in January and continue through the spring. Attendance at classes, both in-person and remotely, are required. We also hold periodic information sessions that discuss what it takes to be a docent and the application process. These are held virtually. Prior to applying, you must attend one. The upcoming dates are listed below.

Who qualifies to be a CAC Docent?

We accept adults of all backgrounds. You must have a flexible enough schedule to attend Saturday training sessions. We do not accept full-time undergraduate students into our docent training program. We do not accept people who work for or plan to work for a tour company. Trainees and docents must comply with CAC’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement as a condition of volunteering. You must provide proof of vaccination as part of the recruitment process. You must also pass a simple background check.

What happens next?

If you are accepted into the docent training program and can attend the scheduled dates, we will pair you with a docent mentor to assist you in getting ready to attend class.

About Docent Training

Our docent training is a rigorous experience. The program aims to give new docents a broad understanding of architecture and architectural language, as well as the confidence and skills necessary to lead specific tours. Once your docent training is complete, we hope you’ll be excited to put everything you’ve learned to use. You’ll join the ranks of CAC docents who happily share their knowledge and passion for Chicago, its world-class architecture, and the urban environment.

Components of Docent Training

The first significant component of training is called Fundamentals of Chicago Architecture. This class meets once a week for five weeks to discuss Chicago architecture and history. It includes a broad look at architecture and techniques for developing and conducting tours. Following Fundamentals, trainees will either learn two walking tours or will learn to give the river cruise.

Many CAC Docents enjoy leading walking tours and the river cruise. Whichever tour you learn first, you are encouraged to learn additional tours in the upcoming years. With that in mind, after passing the interview screening you will be asked if you strongly prefer your first tour be a walking tour; if you strongly prefer your first tour be the river cruise; or if you are open to either. If you are accepted to the training program you will be invited to train for either walking tours or the river cruise. The more flexible you are, the more likely it is you will be accepted into the 2023 training program.

The following illustration provides context for the possible paths through docent training. In addition, the specifics of the application and interview process as well as the paths through docent training are described at the information session.

Flow chart showing possible docent training paths

For trainees learning walking tours, you will meet every Saturday for four weeks to focus on developing and mastering a CAC walking tour. These classes include tour demonstrations, tour practice, and assistance in creating a tour that meets CAC standards. Following training for your first walking tour, you will learn a second walking tour. Typically this training occurs over two Saturdays.

For trainees learning the river cruise, you will have 5 weeks of in-person training every other Saturday, followed by 2-5 onboard practice cruises and as many observation cruises as you choose (typically about 5). Training includes at-home learning, one-on-one coaching sessions, and hands-on practice in-class and onboard, all designed to equip you to develop your own river cruise that meets CAC standards.

What is expected of a CAC Docent?

Our docents commit to giving a minimum of 13 tours during their first year of service. After that, each docent is expected to give a minimum of 10 tours every year. Docents also commit to continuing their education by attending docent-planned enrichment and continuing education activities. Most importantly, our docents are expected to enthusiastically represent the CAC and the city of Chicago.

Information Sessions

We offer information sessions to help you understand the requirements of becoming a docent. You must attend an information session before applying to be a docent. To RSVP for an information session, please send an email to volunteer@architecture.org.

  • Wednesday, May 18 at 5:30 via Zoom
  • Wednesday, July 20 at 5:30 via Zoom
  • Saturday, August 27th at 10am, CAC Lecture Hall
  • Saturday, September 24th at 10am, CAC Lecture Hall

Upcoming Information Sessions

2023 Training Dates

Fundamentals of Chicago Architecture (All Trainees)

Class Orientation - January 14 (2 hours/morning via Zoom)
January 21, 28, February 4, 11, 18

Walking Tour Training #1 (Walking Tour Trainees Only)

March 4, 11, 18, 25

Walking Tour Training #2 (Walking Tour Trainees Only)

April 29; May 13

River Cruise Tour Training (River Cruise Tour Trainees Only)

March 4, 18, April 1, 15, 29 (morning training sessions)
April 1 - mid-July (onboard cruise observations scheduled at your convenience, as many as you choose)
May 13 - mid-June (5 onboard practice cruises scheduled various days of the week, minimum 2 required)

Apply Today