Celebrating National Volunteer Week

Valerie Beaman, Americans for the Arts blog, 4/11/11

It's National Volunteer Week and time to celebrate all those volunteers who help keep the doors open and the wheels turning in nonprofit arts organizations across the country.  With funding cutbacks and staff layoffs, volunteers are more important than ever.  Pro bono volunteers are filling in the gaps providing CEO coaching, marketing, financial services, and legal services among others.  On-call volunteers are ushering, painting sets, making costumes, helping with mailings, copying scripts, and sweeping stages.  And let's not forget our board members who volunteer their expertise, funds, and influence in the community. 


FROM TC: Have you taken advantage of Business Volunteers for the Arts?  Here's info from the Americans for the Arts website.  BVAis a national program operated by a network of organizations around the country. Since 1975, it has generated over $100 million in donated services, cash, and other in-kind resources.  Arts groups also develop relationships with business executives that can lead to new board members, development of in-kind resources, and funding. The volunteers hone management and leadership skills and forge new business contacts, as well as have fun and get connected to arts groups in their community. Are you an arts manager looking for help in accounting, human resources, marketing, technology, or some other business area? Check out the local affliates to see if there is a BVA program in your community.  [If you're not in the U.S., view a list of international organizations that provide a link between the arts community and business sector in their specific country.]


In Detroit, a new website connects local arts groups with volunteers

The Nonprofit Quarterly, 4/12/11

If the arts bring out the best in people, how do arts organizations bring out the best people to lend them a hand? In Detroit, hopes are on a website under development that will let people know about volunteer opportunities at arts organizations and enable them to sign up online.  The website is being developed through a partnership between the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Cultural Alliance. The project is one of six receiving $2 million in support from the Kresge and Ford Foundations as part of an effort designed to "identify new operating models to help the arts sector realize cost efficiencies and attract new patrons."  Using volunteers for projects help defray human resources expenditures, which Cultural Alliance's Maud Lyon says is the single biggest cost for any arts organization. The Detroit groups are working with the national service VolunteerMatch to develop the website, which is currently undergoing testing. "The health and human services sector has used VolunteerMatch extensively, but arts and culture, not so much," Lyons said. "So this is breaking ground for VolunteerMatch."  The new website is expected to be fully operational by the end of April and for the first two years, the Alliance's 128 members can list openings for volunteers free. Lyon said that should give participating organizations more than ample time to gain experience with the site and to determine how it's helping them. If they want to keep using the site after that, they'll be charged an annual fee, which is expected to be about $100 a year.


In Chicago, volunteers have become the face of big summer music festival

Tony Macaluso, Arts Engagement Exchange blog, 4/7/11

Experiencing 30 orchestra concerts and 50 open rehearsals each summer as Marketing Director for the Grant Park Music Festival provides fascinating opportunities to watch lots of budding romances. I'm talking about the potential lifelong love-affair between a first-time classical music-goers and a live orchestra.  When the Festival moved to Millennium Park in 2004, the concerts began to draw large audiences with a remarkably high percentage of people who were new to classical music but drawn by the venue, which presented a tremendous opportunity to forge connections and cultivate new classical-music lovers.   One of the first things the Festival did was recruit [and] train a group of volunteer Music Docents to be the face of the Festival at all the free day-time Open Rehearsals. This happened less out of a grand vision for educating audiences than as a stopgap measure to protect our musicians and conductors from being besieged by questions from the hundreds of people who gathered, many just drawn spontaneously to the music while strolling through the park.  Over time the docents developed into amazingly well-rounded ambassadors, as at ease sharing ideas about why Frank Gehry's pavilion looks so startlingly unusual or suggesting the best place to get a Chicago-style hot dog as telling an anecdote about the Shostakovich symphony being rehearsed or explaining the role of our Principal Conductor.  Perhaps the most important role the docents have come to play is using themselves as primary examples of people who have gone from being intrigued by classical music to becoming impassioned regulars.


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In London, 1000+ volunteers convert abandoned factory into enterprising theater

The Daily Telegraph, 4/4/11 [second item in story]

A big winner in last week's round of Arts Council grants was the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Few fringe theatres have been more consistently enterprising in recent years, and I think it thoroughly deserves its 80% rise.  Last autumn, after being evicted from its warehouse premises, the Arcola took over the Reeves Factory a few hundred yards away, which had been home to squatters. In return for a rent rebate from Hackney Council, it will renovate the place. More than 1,000 volunteers have helped in this Big Society project, painting walls, transporting equipment, putting up shelves and providing expertise. Almost everything used -- seating, lighting, even the fire alarm -- has been recycled from the warehouse, with the aim of making the theatre carbon neutral. So far, it's all a bit Heath Robinson. Insulation is provided by gaffer tape, the loos aren't great, the bar is improvised, and the place still needs about half a million pounds of work to make it functional in winter. But this is a buzzingly exciting place, full of possibility and firing on all creative cylinders.   Self-help is the key. "We got bored with asking rich people for money," executive director Ben Todd told me. "Instead, we thought we'd try to make some ourselves."   To this end Todd, who has a PhD from Cambridge in engineering, has set up a linked commercial company in the building to generate income: Arcola Energy will develop and manufacture eco-technology drawn from experiments made in the theatre. 

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