We take them for granted too often—the docents who lead our museum tours, the ushers who show us to our theater seats, the other arts volunteers in our communities. Like all non-profits, arts organizations rely on volunteers to help achieve important goals—helping at-risk youth create visual art, offering music lessons to students living below the poverty level, presenting live theater to children with special needs.
You’ll hear a lot about volunteering this month because Jan. 18th has been designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. King Day of Service. President Obama, as part of his United We Serve initiative, is asking Americans to make the King holiday a “day on” instead of a “day off.” Rather than taking a day off work for purely leisurely activities, consider joining fellow Arizonans volunteering in your community that day.
Non-profits of all sizes and service areas—from health care and housing to education and the arts—need volunteers to further their work, to do more good for more folks. “Do what you can,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt, “with what you have, where you are.” You have time. You have talents. Why not share them with your local arts community?
There are plenty of ways to find an arts organization that could use your energy and ideas. Think about the arts you’re most interested in—whether dance, music, theater, visual arts or something else—then consider the organizations and venues that are making good things happen in the areas you love.
Finding a volunteer gig—whether short or long term—can be as simple as picking up the phone to ask whether there are any needs or volunteer opportunities. Not to worry if you feel less than perfectly qualified. Most organizations offer volunteer training and ongoing guidance to enhance your skills and offer support. Consider taking a friend of family member along if volunteering alone seems too boring or intimidating.
I often see the good folks of major corporations like Home Depot, APS, SRP, Wells Fargo and others out there volunteering in their company t-shirts. They enjoy the double benefits of giving back to the community and showing off their community-minded spirit. This year, I’d love to head out and see a sea of volunteers wearing t-shirts of theater, music, dance and other arts organizations.
There’s no denying that the arts, including many Arizona arts organizations, have been hit hard by tough economic times—so we tend to think of ourselves as the folks who need the extra support. But what if we really went out this year and showed our friends and neighbors that we like to give every bit as much as we like to get. Artists are so generous of spirit, yet so under-recognized for this quality.
I was privileged several years ago to see a dear friend, Max Dine, M.D., honored with a Hon Kachina Award for his outstanding volunteer service as a mental health advocate. The Hon Kachina Council notes that “over 350 nominees have been honored for their dedication to causes that include health care, neighborhood revitalization, youth and senior activities, the arts, education, justice, housing, nutrition or social services.”
I was surprised, in checking the list of past recipients, that there aren’t more arts volunteers among them. We all know they are out there. Have we been remiss, perhaps, in not taking time to recognize our arts volunteers with nominations for this and other awards? You can fix that this year, since nominations for the 2010 Hon Kachina Awards are being accepted through Jan. 29th. (Complete details are at their website.)
Remember my sea of t-shirts fantasy? I confess to having another one. I’d like to see awards committees inundated with nominations of worthy arts volunteers. We want people to know the arts are engaging our citizens. We want our volunteers to know how much we appreciate them.
The 9th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards program is accepting nominations through Jan. 15th for the following categories: “lifetime achievement, youth, youth group, outstanding mentor, adult, adult group, large business/government agency, non-profit, faith-based organization, national service member, and/or service-learning project in your community.”
Who do you know that deserves consideration for this Governor’s award? I’ve nominated folks who didn’t get the award, but were still touched when they received a letter from the governor honoring their service and their nomination. “Everybody can be great,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., “because anybody can serve.” Whether or not their service gets recognized is up to you and me.
Maybe you’d like to do more volunteering yourself, but need help locating volunteer opportunities well matched to your skills, interests and schedule. Here are a few folks you can check with about where help is needed and how you can get involved…
• HandsOn Greater Phoenix @ www.handsonphoenix.org (Check out their information on ‘Give a Day, Get a Disney Day’ volunteer opportunities.)
• Phoenix Volunteers @ www.phoenixvolunteers.org
• Volunteer Match @ www.volunteermatch.org (The day I surfed for volunteer gigs, they had the most arts-related volunteer opportunities.)
As you consider ways to spend the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, remember this Greek proverb: “A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit.”
Note: If you’re with an arts organization seeking volunteers, check out the Arts & Business Council of Greater Phoenix, a chapter of Americans for the Arts. The council “links the vitality and expertise of the business community to non-profit arts and cultural organizations to the benefit of both individually and our community as a whole.”