This is part three of three in a blog post series from ArtPrize Intern, Iryna Bilan, as she shares her experience during ArtPrize 2014. See parts one and two.

I’d like to continue this story with what surprised me the most at ArtPrize: the volunteer program in general, and volunteers in particular.

I had some volunteer experience when I was a student. It’s a wonderful time of your life that gives you an opportunity to learn something new, meet new friends, and still have enough time to share. And, as a volunteer, I met a lot of people like me—thirsty for cultural adventures, limited in financial resources, and sincere in our desire to help. In that way, I really found a few very good friends, with whom I still stay in touch.

And here appears my first surprise—not negative or positive, but just different from my own experience. While I was helping with the ArtPrize volunteer trainings, I realized that, at ArtPrize, students do not make up the majority of volunteers. The vast majority of volunteers are actually 45 and older, and 30% of all volunteers are retired. And this is great, because it means that:

  • Experienced adults have the opportunity to share their skills (referred to as "self-actualization" in the Maslow Pyramid);
  • Those who are retired have the opportunity to remain active in the community’s social life;
  • Loyalty to the organization is high because these volunteers already know the value of their time and will only spend it on something important;
  • ArtPrize becomes much stronger with these people behind the scenes and on the front lines.

In Ukraine, retired people are a minority among volunteers, especially when talking about "events volunteering." The reason is multilateral but, in a nutshell, they don't have good conditions to work or encouragement from the organizations. Another important factor is social in nature. Going back to my previous mention of the Maslow Pyramid, you wouldn’t think about self-actualization until your basic needs (shelter, food, etc.) and safety are satisfied. Especially safety, which was also mentioned by The Nestor Group as a key value and a necessity for Ukrainians to feel satisfied in their social lives. Moreover, it is one of the necessary preconditions for society to move towards sustainable development and, in the case of Ukraine, it's also become a uniting factor for the nation—the most recent example of which was the Revolution of Dignity in 2013 and subsequent war against Russia.

As for the makeup of ArtPrize volunteers—though it is fantastic that adults participate—I cannot understand why youth, especially students without full-time work, do not participate as frequently. It may be simply because of busy schedules with school, work, volunteering for other organizations, and hobbies at the same time. Unfortunately, volunteering often falls by the wayside as our days are already very busy, and we lose out on this opportunity to do good in our communities and in our lifes too!

Resources for ArtPrize Volunteers

A whole separate world—yes, for volunteers! Isn’t it amazing?! ArtPrize Volunteers have several resources at their disposal, which surprised and amazed me day after day:

  • Online volunteer shift-scheduling system at artprize.org, including a personal account with the opportunity to manage your shifts at your own discretion;
  • Pre-event trainings with a detailed overview of all aspects of the upcoming event (of course, volunteers have to know all available information to be successful helpers and advisors for every visitor);
  • Volunteer kit, including visitor and volunteer guidebooks, public transportation wristbands, reusable water bottles, and more;
  • Volunteer parties, a bunch of appreciation perks, and a private lounge space (in two places!) with snacks, coffee, and refreshments.

Compare that with one of my previous (and craziest) volunteer experiences in Ukraine, where I received just a short 5-minute improvised training after my shift had already started. All while the line to register foreign poets and writers was growing every minute. On the upside, we also had coupons to eat lunch in good restaurants, but of course that’s not enough to say that the volunteer conditions and overall experience were great.

Volunteers are the first people to meet visitors and other event guests. It is out of respect to yourself and to the visitors that any organization, in preparation for an event, should provide volunteers all of the tools they need to do their work well, which is done successfully by ArtPrize.

On the other hand, especially for this particular event, you get to volunteer and enjoy art from all over the world, all at once! I can compare this with my first work experience after graduation, when I was enjoing a sound check by Cassandra Willson, the American jazz musician, while preparing a lounge area at the same time. And ArtPrize lasts for nineteen days, so you have many more chances for such nice moments.

Trustworthiness

Volunteers give the most priceless thing in the world—their time. The World giving index report scores three different ways to give, one of those being “volunteering time”, rather than just “volunteering”. Every organization should seek to show their appreciation for this gift and build relationships with and within a community on the basis of trust, respect, and friendship. Providing higher levels of responsibility to volunteers is also an expression of respect for their time. I have to say, ArtPrize happily achieves this goal.

The results of this collaboration are fruitful for both sides. Visitors leave the event satisfied and amazed, their expectations fulfilled even if just because of advice from Wayfinder volunteers. Volunteers return to the HUB from their shifts, even on rainy days or late in the evening, still satisfied and amazed—and once were even comforted by homemade soup prepared by the HUB Volunteer Lead (I saw this happen!).

I think ArtPrize Volunteers become a part of the event. Can you imagine anyone who could do the docent tour for Adonna Khare’s Elephants better then Mr. Keane Murdock? Not only does he have many years of docent experience with this artwork, but he also talked with the artist about it a few times and has some "insider" information to share with visitors. ArtPrize has become part of the lives of Grand Rapidians—many of them planning to host their relatives or even participate as artists for that time of year. Or they simply plan meetings with good friends to talk and to enjoy the art at the same time.

Conclusions

Volunteers are an integral part in many of the world’s largest events—the Super Bowl, the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, and many others. It is hard to imagine them without volunteers. ArtPrize is similar in that respect, and is great to have in your city.

Volunteers also play a key role in supporting social change around the world, such as with the Red Cross, Peace Corps, or sometimes just in their own countries, as it is nowadays in Ukraine. In my country, volunteers help provide the troops with food and clothing.

People in Grand Rapids have a very good opportunity to be a part of a high-level, international event. You also have the opportunity to be patriots of your own city, by greeting visitors and sharing with them the most interesting facts about Grand Rapids. All while enjoying art from all over the world.

And the care that ArtPrize instills in its volunteer program makes volunteers’ experience really powerful. You should try it, at least once. After that, it will be hard to stop!

Photographs: ArtPrize, Iryna Bilan.

By Iryna Bilan on