In preparation for ArtPrize Seven, we reached out to our past volunteers and asked if they would share some of their experiences, giving others a better understanding of how volunteering for ArtPrize works. These stories will not only offer insights into how volunteering impacts different people, but will also give you an idea of what our different volunteer positions entail.

Today’s blog post focuses on Wayfinding positions, and highlights two of our returning volunteers, Gerin Ariel Moblo and Amber Feasal-Bartling.

Gerin has been volunteering with ArtPrize since 2013. Her hometown is Belding, but she has lived in Grand Rapids for the past seven years. She works at Aldi as a Customer Service Representative.

Gerin really enjoys listening to live music, except country. She loves art and singing, and especially enjoys live performances. Her first time volunteering was with her father, when she was in elementary school. He used to run The Belding Environmental Council, and they did a lot of environmental projects like picking-up trash, tree mulching, and lining paths.

Gerin’s first volunteering position without her father was with a youth program in middle and high school. Her favorite part of working with the program was helping with the Special Olympics.

“That was really the most meaningful volunteering that I’ve ever done. These kids were amazing! But ArtPrize is my favorite now, that’s why I take a week off every year to volunteer.”

We sat down with Gerin to chat about her volunteer experience with ArtPrize:

ArtPrize (AP): What motivates you to give your time as a volunteer?

Gerin: I just hadn’t volunteered for so long, and I really missed being involved. I volunteered all through high school and in college I was president of the Honor Society for my first three years. It was so awesome, such a great volunteer experience. It just feels good to do it again.

AP: What piqued your interest in the event?

Gerin: I grew up in a home of art. My mother is an artist and I am an artist, even though I don’t really practice right now. Growing up there was always an appreciation for art and music in our house. It was important. It’s funny, so many people that I’ve met think “ArtPrize? Whatever” And then when I talk with them about it and my experience, they are inspired to go.

Photo: Gerin Ariel Moblo

AP: Why did you choose to volunteer with ArtPrize?

Gerin: I really love ArtPrize and I really wanted to see downtown and the art. I didn't realize at first how much you see while you’re volunteering, ‘cause I hadn’t done it yet, but now I know.

When I can, I take a week off work to volunteer and see the art at the same time. Usually I go and see the same art many-many times, because I go with my mom, and with my brother, and with my best friends. And it’s just a completely different experience every time, it’s amazing.

I also love getting people excited about ArtPrize!

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

Gerin: I did wayfinding my first year. I was kind of nervous, because I'm directionally challenged and not super good with geography and maps. I actually had to learn a lot about the streets in Grand Rapids, so that I could help people find their way.

I learned a ton about downtown, which was super awesome. Now I can get almost anywhere, which is really cool. Before volunteering I could really only use the freeway to get around downtown, but if it was shut down, or there was heavy traffic or whatever, it was hard for me to connect how to get from one place to another by streets. Now I know a bunch of streets which is very cool.

One of the things that I volunteered for last year was the Pop-Up Park. Oh man, that was probably one of my favorite things! It was so fun! Working with all the little kids, and helping them create art.

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

Gerin: I was a bit nervous, because I didn't really know what I would be doing. The orientation gives you a lot of information about certain things, but not necessarily about volunteering if it is your first time. It went okay, but after my first year I went hardcore and got super involved!

AP: What volunteer positions have you done so far?

Gerin: I was a docent at the HUB, worked as a wayfinder multiple times, and worked at the Pop-Up Park. Also I’ve done desk volunteering, printing badges and such. I’ve helped with the clamshells project, stuffing event guides. I didn't even sign up for that shift, but I saw that some of the volunteers didn’t show up so I came and helped. I  also signed up for one shift as a bicycle valet.

AP: What did you appreciate about this experience?

Gerin: One thing I appreciated was that there are a lot of events and things, which are free for us to go to. I appreciate all the perks—because of last years "1st shift gift" I know all about the Local Epicurean, all the classes and things that you can get from them. That was an amazing perk, but I definitely would volunteer even if there weren't perks like that.

I met a ton of people, who have become my friends. I learned a lot about the city, and just getting to see all of the art is really cool. When I was a docent at the HUB, I learned soooo much just from one shift! Now I know so much about past winners—I love to share it with people, so, it was really fun. I can’t say that there was any single volunteering shift that I took that I didn’t like, I just like some more than others.

Photo: Gerin Ariel Moblo

AP: What was your favorite part about Wayfinding?

Gerin: Well, I’m very good at just going up to people and being like “Hey! Are you loving ArtPrize?!” or whatever. I’m very sociable, and I’m really approachable. I choose different places every time when I do Wayfinding, because I want to see different art pieces.

And I got to meet so many artists in that way! Every time I saw an artist, I tried to make a big deal about it for everyone who’s around. It’s easy to recognize them, because of badges. The artists love it and the people love it! People come to the event because they love art and they are here for ArtPrize. Artists are kind of flattered and happy about it. They feel extra special when they are recognized by people, especially since people could possibly vote for them. And then sometimes you end up sitting with artists and talking. I’ve always known someone who enters ArtPrize every year, but it’s cool to meet strangers and learn their stories. It’s always really fun.

AP: What was the hardest part about Wayfinding?

Gerin: Even though I am very sociable, it’s still hard to go and not know anybody. But because you are typically in pairs, in general the experience was positive.

AP: What type of people do you think should sign-up for the Wayfinding positions?

Gerin: Everyone! Because if you are very sociable it will be super easy, but even if you are someone who likes to stay at home most of the time, then making yourself do it could be really fun for you. It’s such a great time!

Someone who doesn’t care about art probably shouldn’t do it, because they wouldn’t be able get other people excited about art. I’ve met all kinds of people who do Wayfinding—all ages, all cultural and financial backgrounds. People from all over the city, it’s really cool!

Our next volunteer, who shared her story with us, is Amber Feasal-Bartling. It was 2010 during her first year in Grand Rapids after moving from Cleveland, Ohio that Amber became an Artprize volunteer. Amber is a Michigan native originally (she was born and grew up in Lansing). Now she is working at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine as an Academic and Finance Assistant.

Amber is an avid gardener; she has flower gardens and vegetable gardens on her single city plot, where she likes to experiment by planting vegetable plants next to perennial flowers.

She and her husband are huge aficionados of craft beers all around the city.

“We just love touring the different breweries. We’ve really enjoyed that about Grand Rapids! We adore our time out, and we've made a lot of friends in different Mug Club Nights. Actually, for couples and people who just moved to the city, there are a lot of opportunities to get connected, and meet other people especially through volunteering.”

Amber’s first real volunteer effort was made while living in Lansing. There she volunteered with the North Network Center, a school for the blind and community center, where they run several different operations including a food bank/emergency pantry. Working with a few other woman, Amber ran a group that mentored honors students from kindergarten and middle school. They were good students that were interested in giving back to the community. Using different mannering techniques, Amber and her colleagues taught those students what it meant to give back and help out in the community.

“It was a lot of work, and at that time I was taking near 20 or 22 credits per semester course load and working a full-time job on top of it. But volunteering gives you an energy—another feeling of release."

We sat down with Amber to talk more about volunteering:

AP: What motivates you to give your time as a volunteer?

Amber: I love doing something for the community every year. I do like the nature of ArtPrize being kind of customer service-oriented when you’re helping somebody and you’re being an ambassador to the city. You’re hoping that visitors will have a really great time and even the residents of GR will come out to learn a little bit more about their hometown. If everybody goes home loving Grand Rapids a little bit more at the end of the day, that’s great. I think that’s the whole spirit of it. And additionally rocking the art world a little bit.

I felt so much more connected to the community after volunteering with ArtPrize.

AP: What piqued your interest in the event?

Amber: It just has this fascinating concept—I loved the idea! I heard wonderful things about what it did for the city. Grand Rapids is a smaller town than Cleveland, and we really fell in love with Cleveland, so it was a little sad moving here. But ArtPrize makes it feel so much more vibrant, and I fell in love with the city after being involved. It forced me to get out, go to the different museums, and now we have become members of pretty much everything.

Photo: ArtPrize

AP: Why did you choose to volunteer with ArtPrize?

Amber: I wanted to get out of the house and learn a little bit more about my new city, Grand Rapids. And about the people and the culture. It really forced me to get out and learn about things—What’s downtown? What’s in certain areas? All those wonderful venues. I made friends. It was a wonderful experience and fulfilling to be able volunteer and to give back. ArtPrize made us feel super rewarded. It’s always been nice.

It’s also nice to get out and to have an excuse to maybe fly through dozens of different galleries and shops in the evening.

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

Amber: It was the second year of ArtPrize when we moved to Grand Rapids. We ended up helping with the clamshell project, stuffing event guides. I remember, I got home and my hands were sore, but I felt good that I had done something and been social. At that time I was job searching and not really getting out much.

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

Amber: I didn't have any big expectations, only that I was there for the community, as always. I remember I was really happy, and it felt really nice to be involved. We were thankful for that. I think in the very first year I got tickets to go to the Final Announcement event and it was just such a super nice thing. I also won a UICA membership as well, which was great.

AP: What volunteer positions have you done so far?

Amber: Clamshell project, driving to the airport for jurors, concierge, HUB Lead, docent, retail, voter registration, wayfinding, Pop-Up Park, face painting at Rosa Parks Circle and different kids activities.

I was very apologetic about the face painting. I'm evidently not the greatest at face painting, but I can do a butterfly. That’s why there were a lot of girls wandering around with a lot of butterflies. [laughs] We enjoyed it! And all the parents were appreciative that it was free for the kids.

Photo: ArtPrize

AP: How did you join ArtPrize as a group volunteer?

Amber: Through my current work here at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. There was one day that a group of us went down and did Wayfinding together. As a whole it was wonderful to be able to get my co-workers to go downtown and experience a little bit of what ArtPrize volunteering really is. However, I think some of the individuals in the group misunderstood; they thought that we would all be together in one big group, but then we were divided into pairs.

I was placed by the Fountain Street Church, which was a great spot. There is always some interesting artwork inside of that venue. It is also a little bit off the busy path, so it was nice to go and spread out a little bit, to try to steer people in.

Right in front there was a play that was going on. I think it was considered a play, but it was within three acts and it kept repeating. It was not very easy to understand, so many people who walked by didn't understand. But it was just a funny additional thing—to watch the play and see people’s reactions at the same time. But normally you're directing people, talking to them and there’s always something interesting to tell them about the city, the neighborhood, the architecture, or ArtPrize itself.

AP: What did you appreciate about this experience?

Amber: You just feel more connected within a community. The fact that you’re helping out, you're contributing to people falling in love with the city—it’s wonderful! You’re helping the artists, venues, and ArtPrize in general. There is an individual and city connectivity, because there are a lot of exhibits in a lot of beautiful little shops, which I may never wander into otherwise. It’s just rewarding in so many different ways, and gives you a feeling of real connection with the community.

AP: What's your most memorable moment, when you think about the time you've volunteered with us?

Amber: I always love taking a day off from work and volunteering, taking friends and family from out of town and showing them the different venues. Last year, I think, It was just kind of mind blowing, when we went to SiTE:LAB. That place was under construction and all this cool art inside of it—really good quality pieces.

I really love being involved with such a large-scale event. Because there are so many venues and artists, there’s always someone to help. People come from out of town and they want to see one certain thing and they get overwhelmed. So, when I was working as a concierge I loved being able to answer very specific questions, and go that “extra mile”—getting out the map, showing them the route, also throwing some extra ideas their way about a couple different places that they should try to visit next.

Photo: ArtPrize

AP: What was your favorite part about Wayfinder volunteering in a group?

Amber: There was a Wayfinding shift, when I was down on the Blue Bridge. One person came up to me—just looking around and with a look on his face. “Okay, I’ve got to ask—what’s going on?”, he asked me. He actually didn’t know what ArtPrize was. He was in town for business, so I opened the map and told him all about the event. I said “Hey, this is really something you need to get see. Go for a walk—you’ve already got your job and shoes, just go!”

So, it was fun just to see someone curious and completely excited about the city, something really special. And it totally made his night, I'm sure!

AP: What type of people do you think should sign-up for Wayfinding positions?

Amber: I think it’s best if you like to talk to people. If you are not the type to engage somebody out of the blue and just wait for them to come up to you, it might not be the best position. If you enjoy helping people, but don’t want them to just come up to you, then maybe try Voter Registration—if you’re good with a computer—or the docent type of the position.

I really enjoyed Wayfinding because I like starting conversations with anyone, whether they know me or not. [laughing] And maybe I was too aggressive with people, who knows. Freaking people out, when you walk up with a great big smile and you are super excited to tell them about something in a pamphlet in your hands, sounds more like a sales offer.

It’s funny, because I’ve never considered myself as a real extrovert, but volunteering and being helpful showed me a different side of me.

Stay tuned for further ArtPrize Seven Volunteer interviews. The next one will highlight Education volunteer opportunities.

By Iryna Bilan on