Making a Difference in the Arts

Making a Difference in the Arts

In a previous blog post, I wrote about Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts, which included eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other social programs and organizations. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, “the NEA has already sustained significant budget reductions. The NEA appropriation is 12% lower than it was in 2010, a decline of $19.5 million,” (February, 2017).

 

That being said, I've realized I spent a great deal of time assuming that the support the arts needed was financial; however, the greater need is manpower. While I have volunteered for a number of arts organizations, it was not until this semester that I truly understood the impact that my volunteering has on the industry. I volunteered at two organizations while in Washington, D.C. this semester.

 

Dance Place

 

 

Courtesy of dancemetrodc.org

 

The first organization was Dance Place, located a few blocks away from the Catholic University of America’s campus in Brookland. As a volunteer, I arrived at 5:30 pm on the evening of a performance and checked in with the House Manager.

 

Officially, I was ushering, meaning handing out programs and assisting guests to their seats: not glamorous work, but someone has to do it. Some of my other duties involved cleaning and stocking the bathrooms, sweeping the lobby, organizing concessions, and doing a spot check for any trash or items left behind in the theatre from the previous performance. Dance Place is an organization that provides programming almost every single weekend. That means every weekend, they are relying on volunteers to carry out these basic responsibilities that make the venue appealing to patrons.

 

The Theatre Lab

 

Courtesy of theatrelab.org

 

The second organization I volunteered with is Theatre Lab, located in Chinatown. At this organization, volunteers perform front-of-house duties (like I did with Dance Place) and also serve as the technical crew for performances.

 

By serving as the technical crew, I don’t just mean standing backstage and making set changes. Most of the set building is done by volunteers under supervision of the technical director, and during performances, volunteers operate spotlights, facilitate quick changes, assist with sound, and manage props. As a sound designer myself, I was excited to hear about the opportunity to assist with sound. My responsibilities included placing body mics on actors before the show and getting them ready for sound check, as well as making mic switches throughout the show, as they are a large cast and only have fifteen microphones. After the show, I had to clean the microphones and get them ready for the show the next day.

 

My service with these organizations reminded me of the weight of volunteerism. I also became aware of the negative impact of "episodic volunteerism," which is the idea that, as a whole, there is a larger volume of volunteers who are completing less volunteer hours and spending less time with each organization they volunteer with. Episodic volunteerism is the greatest contributor to the need for support in the arts, because not only are they scrambling to find volunteer support, but they are rarely able to keep it for longer than a few performances, if they are lucky enough to hold on to it that long.

 

Non-profit organizations, and especially non-profit arts organizations, seem to be in this sort of catch-22 when it comes to volunteers. Volunteers are free labor, but the incentive to volunteer has changed and the cost of training these volunteers is going up. The incentive is now less often to help and more often to fulfill some requirement. With funding for arts organizations declining, at least on a government level, and episodic volunteerism on the rise, the lifeblood of non-profit arts organizations is essentially being drained.

 

As a whole, this means the country can expect to lose the historians of culture: the artists. No longer will arts organizations be able to afford to tell the stories of those who do not have a voice loud enough to tell their own. Losing the arts is not just about losing something pretty to look at or something fun to watch. Losing the arts means losing the preservation of the stories of our ancestors, our families, and ourselves forever.


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