Volunteers Are Savoring 'Upbeat' Arts Festival Work

June 23, 1991|By L. A. Lough | L. A. Lough,Contributing writer

They are the people who won't be relaxing next to most Columbia Festival of Arts patrons at festival events. And they don't get applause.

They are the hundreds of volunteers who organize, set up, providetransportation and do all sorts of things out of the public eye to help make the 11-day festival a success.

"In 1989 we had a total of 50 volunteers," said Toba Barth, director of volunteers. "They did everything from baking brownies to picking entertainers up at the airport to sitting at the booths so the artists could eat lunch to cleaning up when the festival was over."

The work, Barth said, "is so upbeat and exciting that by 1990, we had over 300 volunteers."

Numbers compiled last year by the festival staff indicate that the volunteers' work would have cost about $150,000 -- a sum the festival could ill afford to shell out, said Lynne Nemeth, the festival's managing director.

"Our paid staff consists ofone part-time employee and two who work full time, year-round," Nemeth said. Fifteen more join the paid staff on a seasonal basis.

Addto that the 1991 festival's 650 or so volunteers. Some will work during the festival, which runs from Thursday to July 7; others got started weeks ago.

Some will put in one hour. Some will put in hundreds.

Inspiration for the volunteers comes largely from participatingin a huge community event that involves the arts and nationally known artists.

"It shows us as a community that exists on its own, yetis part of a larger region. Our volunteers are making a statement: 'We're proud of our community and all it has to offer; we want others to see that, too,' " Barth said.

In the end, Barth said, the sentiment "is contagious. The volunteers love the feeling they get from their work. And that feeling is what keeps them coming back. It's a circle. Our parking leader told me last year, in the middle of his job: 'I want to come back again next year; put me on the list.' And I can't count how many others said the same thing."

Anita Fox of Columbia has been a festival volunteer "for one whole week. I'm a fresh volunteer who's in for the long haul," says Fox, who admits to being "forty-something."

Fox says she'll "do anything that needs to be done.I volunteered so they could use me wherever they have a hole to fill."

So far, she's worked in the mail room, the administrative office, "making name tags and baskets for the performers, and so on." It'sthe variety Fox seems to like best.

Volunteers can do as much or as little as they want, she says, "and an added perk is that we get to attend some of the events."

Volunteer Jenny Shropshire of Ellicott City agreed: "It's the constant commotion that I like best. I juststarted two weeks ago, but I already feel like I've been here a longtime. They make you feel like you're really a major part of things."

The 18-year-old Towson State University sophomore said she expects that volunteering for the festival will help her as well as the organization.

"It's a job, and yet it's not," she said. "I'm learningthings that will help me later in life, and I'm helping make the festival better today."

Barth credits the growth of the festival -- from an oversized weekend event to 11 days this year -- in part to thevolunteers.

Staying on top of volunteer skills and schedules "isn't always easy," Barth said, "but we're organized and willing to workhard. It gets done."

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