Our topic in today’s blog post will be about the volunteering position that combines responsibility and hospitality. These two ingredients mixed in the same bowl create a successful visit to ArtPrize for anyone. We’ll talk about fun stories, challenges, different scenarios of communicating with visitors, and unexpected moments that any HUB Lead Volunteer could experience in a single shift.

Our volunteer for this conversation is Justin Smith. Last year he spent almost everyday at the ArtPrize HUB in different hospitality positions, but mostly as a HUB Lead. Justin is from southwest Grand Rapids and grew up in Georgetown Township. He works at Spectrum Health as an Information Services Technical Analyst. Justin considers himself an electronics, computers, and general technology nerd and, prior to his current job, he ran his own technology business. Random fact: Justin is a trained severe weather spotter.

Volunteering is something Justin started while finishing high school and during college, when he worked at a summer camp for elementary school kids. He held a variety of positions, mostly helping to manage the kids during their activities, concerts, games, and competitions.

Justin explains his main motivation for volunteering:

“Volunteering not only supports an event or organization greater than yourself, but gets you out of your routine and comfort zone for a period of time and exposes you to new experiences. In the case of ArtPrize, the motivation for me is making ArtPrize a continued success.”


At the HUB volunteer lounge. Photo: ArtPrize Volunteer Street Media team. 

And now, more about HUB Hospitality, and what it’s like behind the scenes!

AP: What piqued your interest in the event?

Justin: The public participation and the number of people roaming the streets of GR.

AP: Why did you choose to volunteer?

Justin: I know a lot about the event and the city in general and wanted to share that information with visitors. I really enjoy guiding people, and I know how to find things and different places. I went to Grand Valley State University, in the downtown campus, and I lived in Heritage Hill. So, I spent most of my free time walking around the city. Also, when we were younger, we would come downtown to visit the John Ball Zoo, to hear different music, or attend art festivals and other events. So now I can easily help people get around. That’s why I picked the Wayfinding position in the beginning.

One of the reasons I didn’t like Wayfinding was that I couldn’t find the right spot. Because you have to show up before your shift at the Volunteer Lounge very early to choose a specific spot. I actually wanted to help people navigate the whole city and that was possible as a HUB volunteer, because usually everyone starts from there, since it’s the ArtPrize Headquarters. And you receive all kinds of questions from people around the world.

AP: What area did you work in for your first volunteer experience?

Justin: Wayfinding by the B.O.B.

AP: Did you have any expectations going into your first shift?

Justin: I expected to just be handing out ArtPrize info and answering the most basic questions for a few people.

AP: Did your experience confirm or differ from your expectations?

Justin: It was VERY different! I was asked more questions than I could have ever imagined, including just about any topic you could dream of. There were also times when I would have a line of people waiting to ask me something! And these questions were very random.


Greeters at the post. Photo: Stacey Hilton, ArtPrize Volunteer Street Media team. 

AP: Did you tried to answer on all questions?

Justin: Oh, of course! That's what made it fun. The most popular was about parking lots, when people (especially non-locals) couldn’t find where they'd been parked. I think last year at the HUB, when we had all types of questions, we were able to help most of the people. You just start by asking them basic questions: Did you park at a meter, in a parking lot, or in a ramp? When you left, what landmarks did you see? What directions did you walk? What ArtPrize venue did you stop at first? Generally you can get them going in the right direction. And then something clicks in their minds: “Oh, yeah!”

AP: What did you appreciate about this experience?

Justin: The visitors' interest in finding out more about ArtPrize, and that I was able to help make their experience more enjoyable. That was really fascinating! They’re coming and, for example, they have only three hours to explore ArtPrize. So I’m answering: “Here is what you can try to do ...”, “Don’t go there, because you’ll get stuck in a line..”, etc. Or they could ask: “Where is a good place to eat without a crowd?” as well.

AP: What volunteer positions have you done so far?

Justin: Wayfinding, HUB Hospitality, and HUB Lead.


Greeters, Pop Up Park and Bike Valet Volunteers. Photo: Stacey Hilton, ArtPrize Volunteer Street Media team. 

AP: What's your most memorable moment when you've volunteered with us?

Justin: Seeing the surprise on many people’s faces when I explained to them that ArtPrize wasn’t just the two past winners located in the HUB. It was really 150+ venues scattered over 3 square miles and, no, you couldn’t see it all in 3 hours.

They walk into the HUB, go past the greeters, go to the exhibit space, see the winners and then come back. In that moment they looked so confused. And they would stand and kind of stare until we approach them: “Can we help you? What do you need?” “Well, is this it?” – “Well, what do you mean?” – “This is ArtPrize?” And then we had that huge map, the tall one. We said: “No, this is ArtPrize” and we showed them that every one of the dots was a venue, each venue has at least one work of art, but usually multiple. And then they just stared at it. And the most common reaction was: “So, we can’t see all of this in three hours, can we?” – “No. You can’t.” And that happened all the time.

AP: Do you remember any fun stories that happened to you during your time volunteering?

Justin: I had to comfort several crying people, help people locate parked cars, attend to lost children or other family members, listen to mad artists. Sometimes they were crying over individual works of art, that they saw or artists they met or whatever, and they’re starting to cry from their emotions while talking to me.

AP: Troubleshooting stories?

Justin: During an event that is so large, there is always going to be something that happens. Be prepared for basically whatever. We had good steps in place to handle it, I think. We had our phones and binders with all the numbers to call. Usually at the HUB there was always at least one of us who had good experience and knew what to do.

AP: What was your favorite part about volunteering as HUB Lead?

Justin: Being able to float around and help with all of the different positions, as well as having the responsibility of making sure all of the HUB volunteers were happy and having a good time. Sometimes it would be really slow and I didn’t want them to just feel bored. So we joked around, or I told them to switch positions, have a break, etc. Trying to keep it interesting. And I think we had a good time.

AP: What was the hardest part about it?

Justin: Dealing with the volume of visitors that would come through on the weekends. Sometimes I would have security concerns with people coming in off the street. Specific to 2014, we had several upset visitors when the soundstage was in use for live events on TV and the previous winners were unavailable for viewing. It was specifically about the Elephants—we got a lot of complaints from people who couldn’t see it.


Greeters. Photo: Stacey Hilton, ArtPrize Volunteer Street Media team. 

AP: What type of people do you think should sign-up for HUB Lead position?

Justin: Outgoing people-lovers, leaders, fun people with a laid-back personality.

AP: Do you have any other comments or thoughts that you'd like to share with us?

Justin: It is easy to spot the people who look lost and confused or overwhelmed. You don't have to wait. Just take control of the situation, don’t let them stand overwhelmed. Go and approach them with some basic questions: 

  • How much time do you have? 
  • Where did you park? 
  • How far are you willing to walk?
  • Is anybody in your group older, or doesn’t want to go far away, or is with a kid, with disabilities, or anything else?

And then try to send them in a direction, where they won’t have to stay in line, and not far from their parking spot. Send them out.

If they have more time—for example, a day or two—I would recommend them some venues to visit, but also suggest to spend some time just wondering around. That’s also fun.

By Iryna Bilan on