Organizations funded by the Saskatchewan Arts Board are also supported by resources within their own communities. From the 61 organizations that have reported on their recent operating funding, there is a total of 166,405 hours of volunteer support. That’s an average of 2,728 hours for each organization, which is approximately equivalent to a one and a third full-time position.
Nicole Thiessen, director of programming for Station Arts Centre, says volunteers are crucial to operating their company in Rosthern. She has held the director position for three years and coordinates over 100 volunteers from the town and surrounding area.
“Our Board is volunteer board,” she says. “Our summer theatre has a ton of volunteers involved. It’s a great way to have community participation and they have ownership over the programing. We benefit the community with our volunteer power.”
Theissen says Station Arts Centre’s volunteer core is “all-ages.” From high school students to the 60-plus crowd, they work as ushers, bartenders and hosts. Her helpers have many opportunities to serve arts programing. “They get a lot of social engagement. It’s like a party, and they are part of it. They touch base with community members a lot. It’s attractive for many people.”
Another benefit Theissen notes is volunteering gives young helpers a “gli
mpse of getting a career in the arts” while they work with professionals.
The Regina Folk Festival’s Melanie Metcalf begin her career as a volunteer, serving the festival for three years. For the last five years, she has been the organization’s volunteer coordinator. Metcalf says her annual staff of over 700 volunteers is invaluable.
“They do it all,” she explains. “Without volunteers, we wouldn’t have a festival. We wouldn’t be an organization. The more years I’m here, the truer it gets: They are the heart and soul, skin, liver and everything of our organization.”
The Regina Folk Festival is an annual event that exposes Regina and the neighbouring communities to local and traveling artists. They also run a concert series, staging 10 to 12 concerts per year, as well as a workshop series in schools. Metcalf says all of these events rely on volunteers.
“We have a job for everyone. They run our beer gardens, event patrol, set up the sites; there are volunteers who take care of volunteers, they take care of artists. At every section of the festival, there are volunteers. They are involved year round.”
Many arts organizations in the province could not run without volunteers. Robert Wyma is the executive director at Saskatoon’s 25th Street Theatre, the organization responsible for the PotashCorp Fringe Theatre and Street Festival. He says, “All of the staff in the front of the house in our theatres are volunteers, and some have been doing this for over 25 years.” He notes their dedication, saying, “Some have missed only a festival or two.”
Wyma says his secret to having a motivated volunteer force is easy: “There are two things that create a dedicated volunteer: They love theatre, and they love 25th Street Theatre.” He incentivises his staff with a free ticket for every four hours of work they do.
His advice to other arts organizations: every volunteer core needs an ambassador to lead the charge. “We have a gentleman, our volunteer manager Rick Cranston, and he has been there for all but one of the festivals. He’s there to make the volunteer experience unforgettable.”
Top and middle photos of Regina Folk Festival volunteers by Chris Graham
Bottom and front page photos by Rae Graham