Jamming in the back of a pickup truck with a band from Scandinavia. Having lunch with author J.K. Rowling. Chatting with dancer Karen Kain at a cocktail party. These are just a few of the things that you might be called on to do as a volunteer with an arts organization.
On a sunny afternoon a few summers ago, Ben Anderson rode through the streets of Lunenberg, N.S. in the back of a pick-up truck. The truck was filled with an upright piano and several musicians from the Faroe Islands in Scandinavia. Spontaneously, they began singing and playing as the truck drove down the street. At the time, Ben was volunteering with the town’s annual Folk Harbour Festival and was helping take the musicians from one venue to another.
Now 24, Ben has moved into the role of paid festival coordinator. In his job, he helps manage the hundreds of volunteers that make the festival happen each year. Volunteers are a vital part of this and most festivals across the country. Whether it’s organizing the program, helping with promotion, or setting up chairs in the main performance tent, Ben estimates that it takes over 30,000 volunteer hours to run the festival every year.
According to the Canadian Conference of the Arts, more than 670,000 people are involved in the arts and culture industries in Canada. That’s more than twice as many people as traditional resource-based sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and mining combined. Young people make up a huge part of Canada’s cultural sector too. In fact, in 1996-97, young people contributed 59.5 million hours of volunteer time to arts, culture, and recreation organizations.
Dean Thullner, a Vancouver-based event coordinator, works with a wide range of volunteers on arts-related productions. According to Dean, “Volunteers make up a huge, essential part of almost every production.” Whether it’s helping with hair and make-up for fashion shows, or working with sets on low-budget films, volunteers are a critical part of the mix.
“School is a good place to learn the basics and the structures,” says Dean, “but when you’re actually volunteering in the profession, you’ll see the rules being broken, and see what makes great artists successful. You can’t get that in a classroom.”
Janice Beley, 36, liked her volunteer work so much, she resigned from her job at a library and went back to Capillano College in Vancouver to study arts management. Just six months after graduating, she’s working as a publicist with Raincoast Books, and helped mount the enormously popular recent Canadian tour with J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels. “It’s been great,” she says. “I’ve gone from lunch in the cafeteria to lunch with one of the most popular authors on the planet!”
Janice started volunteering several years ago as an usher in a student theatre. From there, she climbed the ranks, learning stage management, box office, and publicity.
“Volunteering gives you a new way to experience the event,” she says. “Instead of just sitting in the audience, you get to see everything behind