In our third blog post highlighting volunteer stories from our volunteer interview series, we take a peek at the HUB Hospitality positions—and Registration particularly. We’ll meet Sharon and Steve McGowan, who have been volunteering at ArtPrize for the past three years. They share their stories and give us a firsthand account of volunteering at the HUB.

They both grew up in Cadillac, Michigan. After they married, Steve and Sharon moved to Grand Rapids where they raised three children.

“We moved to Grand Rapids because Steve found a job here. Now, after living here, we consider it our home.”

Currently Sharon and Steve are retired, but in the past Steve worked at Steelcase, where he was responsible for media production, event planning, training, and more. Sharon worked for the Internal Revenue Service. In her free time, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, and sewing quilts. Steve enjoys photography, videography, and reading anything to do with history. They both love spending time with children and grandchildren.

Sharon and Steve have fond memories of their first volunteering experience. Steve first volunteered with the Special Olympics and the Kentwood Jaycees, where he worked with handicapped children. Sharon volunteered with the Girl Scouts where she assisted on camping trips. Sharon and Steve agree that the best part of volunteering is simply to work with people. They love sharing their city with tourists. Currently they volunteer at the GRAM and would like to become Docents at the museum.

“The ability to help people—to make their experience at ArtPrize, and visiting the city, better—that was our main task, and the most enjoyable and exciting moment at the same time.”

Registration to vote. Photo: ArtPrize.

Let’s take a closer look at their ArtPrize experience!

ArtPrize (AP): Why did you choose to volunteer with ArtPrize?

Sharon: We’re retired and have a lot of free time to share. Actually, we kind of volunteered even from the very first year, when our friends and relatives visited us. We walked with them around downtown Grand Rapids and showed them all the great art. The next logical step was to start officially volunteering for ArtPrize.

Steve: This is a great experience in the volunteer community. We have met many people and look forward to seeing them and working with them again.

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

Sharon: My first shift was at the HUB before ArtPrize officially starts. Together with another volunteer I was giving the artists their badges and swag bags, and answering additional questions. It was a great first experience! I had a chance to talk with artists about their entries, and got to know them better—and even visited them at their venue.

Steve: I remember the first thing I did was Wayfinding near the Children’s Museum. I remember one couple approached me and asked me: “Who is Bob?” I didn't understand and asked them more questions. They told me they had lunch at one old building with a lot of art inside and I realized they were asking me about The Big Old Building: The B.O.B. People often ask you different and even strange questions that you wouldn't expect. But that is a main value of this position—you’re learning how to find the answers, even when you didn’t know them.

Registration Volunteers. Photo: Stacey Hilton / ArtPrize Volunteer Media Street Team.

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

Sharon: I didn't have any expectations and I was simply enjoying being welcomed by everyone—both volunteers as well as ArtPrize staff. I liked it from the very beginning.

Steve: My first shift was a brand-new experience, so I didn't know what to expect. But it was a great time. When you see people wandering around with excitement on their faces, you can’t stay away. 

AP: What did you appreciate about this experience?

Sharon: I appreciate the fact that even if your fingers are sore at the end of the day, you’re coming home satisfied and happy from being in this community of other volunteers and knowing you’re helping to organize this big event.

Steve: One the most important things is that you feel proud of the city, that it is hosting this great event. You're proud of yourself too, that you are able to be part of it. And of course the most exciting thing is to share those feelings with others, especially with tourists. There are a lot of them, coming from different parts of the country and the world. It is real pleasure to be among the first Grand Rapidians they meet, and to make them happy in our city. Especially if they’ve been overwhelmed or having a bad experience, to see their smile after saying “Have a great the rest of the day!”

AP: What volunteer positions have you done so far?

Sharon: HUB Hospitality (Registration), Wayfinding, Docent, Pre-Event Help (Clamshell Project).

Steve: HUB Hospitality (Greeter, Retail), Wayfinding, Pre-Event Help (Clamshell Project).

Registration to vote. Photo: ArtPrize.

AP: What's your most memorable moment from the time you've volunteered with ArtPrize?

Steve: I remember one man, who I met at the HUB last year. He said “I'm amazed with this big event! You are so lucky to have it over here and be a part of it. In my city that’s not possible.” He told me that in his city there are no people who would be willing to volunteer and give their time to the community to help other people. “You’re not there, you’re in Grand Rapids,” he said to me.

Sharon: My most memorable moment was during my Docent shift. I was volunteering at the HUB and talking about previous winners Elephants and Sleeping Bear Dunes. At one moment there were 5th or 6th grade students, coming to see the exhibit. They came through and viewed the artwork without any emotion on their faces. So I decided to stop one of them near Elephants and ask him to find a little rabbit in this picture. Then I approached another child, and asked them to find a gorilla with human hands. In their eyes I finally saw interest as they were looking for each object, and were so happy when they finally found it and pointing to each other. Then I told them to take a look at the Sleeping Bear Dunes and asked about the medium that the artist used to create it. No one answered, and it was really rewarding to see the variety of expressions on their faces when they took a closer look and realized it was made from little pieces of fabric. That moment is the best way to describe the role of Docent during ArtPrize.

AP: Would you recommend volunteering at ArtPrize to others?

Sharon: Oh yes, we have already recommended volunteering to many of our friends. We have friends who already booked their hotel rooms to visit during ArtPrize. And our granddaughter usually doesn't leave the city until she sees all of the art pieces. She is studying for Graphic Design and after her first visit to ArtPrize she said someday she will enter her own art.

Steve: It was Sharon who brought me to Artprize for my first experience and she talked me into volunteering. I actually could not say no. Sharon doing a great job in promoting ArtPrize. I can’t remember for how many people she was talking to last week at Cherry Festival about ArtPrize, while we were on our vacation in Traverse City!

Greeters. Photo: Stacey Hilton / ArtPrize Volunteer Media Street Team.

AP: Sharon, what was your favorite part about volunteering as a Registration Volunteer?

Sharon: It was good to see people excited about ArtPrize. Also there were a lot of questions that didn’t deal with registration. We answered practical questions from non-locals about where they could eat, find parking, etc. to the best of our ability, to make their experience better.

AP: What was the hardest part about it?

Sharon: In order to register to vote, we ask for some personal information such as an address and email. Often people are wary about giving this information out and ask why we need it. I explain that we need to be fair to all the artists and make sure that each visitor votes only one time for one artist. Other times people didn’t have an email at all, and I helped them create one. They leave the HUB not only registered to vote, but also with their own email. All-inclusive service!

AP: What type of people do you think should sign-up for Registration Volunteer?

Sharon: Being able and willing to help others is the most important quality of a registration volunteer. Having basic computer skills is also helpful, to be able to help others with the website and how to register online.

AP: Steve, what is your favorite position?

Steve: My favorite position was to greet people near the doors at the HUB and help them find what they were looking for. There was one family at the HUB who asked me to help them find The Harris Building. I explained in detail, and they said “Got it!” but I saw that they still looked a little confused. So I just said “Let me show you.” We went by the corner on Division and there I pointed out The Harris Building. They were happy and I felt content that they got to their destination.

I think in this position, or even any other, you have to think about every visitor as your friend and do just a little bit more for them. They will remember this good experience.

Near the Pop-Up Park. Photo: ArtPrize.

AP: Do you have any recommendations for those volunteers who welcome people at the HUB?

Steve: One important thing is that you have to be ready to listen and be a shoulder for these visitors. Not all of them who come to the HUB have had a good experience so far. The reasons are different—like being overwhelmed by the number of venues, or not being able download the app, finding a parking spot, etc. Some of them might be angry or upset, crying or complaining (very rare, but it happens). They just need someone to listen to them at first and, secondly, to help them solve the problem. It is not always possible to do the second part, but usually it’s not very hard to suggest an alternative that will change their overall experience and brighten their day.

By Iryna Bilan on