What goes on at...Voluntary Arts

Voluntary Arts Week finishes tomorrow. We caught up with Voluntary Arts, Development Lead, Cassandra Barron to find out more...

What goes on at...Voluntary Arts

What happens at Voluntary Arts?

Voluntary Arts works to promote and increase active participation in cultural activities across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Over half the UK adult population is involved in the voluntary arts and crafts (cultural activity that people undertake for self-improvement, social networking and leisure, but not primarily for payment). Those activities are wide-ranging and include music, dance, crafts, drama, literature, visual arts, festivals and much more.

We work with policy makers, funders and politicians to improve the environment for everyone participating in the arts, and we provide information and training. This includes over 300 national and regional umbrella bodies, and through them, their member groups of local voluntary arts practitioners. Voluntary Arts recognises that the arts are a key part of our culture and are vital to our health, social and economic development.

We offer advice on a range of topics, from how to write an effective funding application to tips on creating a marketing strategy. We also have a useful funding page that pools together relevant funding for community engaged creative activity and groups can promote their creative events and volunteering opportunities through our social media channels, website and regular enews, which you can sign up to here.

What drove you to set up Voluntary Arts Week?

Often people are unaware of the creative groups and projects happening right on their doorstep - we are regularly contacted by people who are keen to get creative and join a group but don't quite know where to start and we all know that going along to something for the first time can be a bit daunting. On the flip side of this we know lots of groups that are looking to build their membership and are really keen to welcome new people.

In Belgium they have been running an annual showcase of amateur arts activity for the last 20 years, which they call Week of Amateur Kunst(or arts). WAK is a firm favourite in the cultural calendar and welcomes creative groups to showcase their work and invite new people to join them by holding public events in cafes, community centres, pubs and cultural venues.

We thought we would try something similar over here and are now in the fourth year of Voluntary Arts Week. Voluntary Arts promotes the festival and supports groups to get involved but the events that make up the festival programme are run by groups and organisations of all shapes and sizes.

How can people get ahead through volunteering in the arts?

I think 'getting ahead' is all down to what you want to get out of volunteering. Personally my perception of what volunteering is has changed dramatically over the years, especially since I started working with Voluntary Arts.

When I was at Art School I volunteered in the local art gallery and very much did this as a way to gain hands-on experience and for something to put on my CV to help me get into work within the creative sector.

When I moved to Edinburgh to start work with Voluntary Arts I volunteered for very different reasons, this time it was more about meeting like-minded people, building my confidence in delivering creative workshops and for that 'feel good factor' that comes with giving your time to a good cause.

Volunteering is a fantastic way to make connections, meet people and 'get your foot in the door' when it comes to finding work – especially in the creative/cultural sector. It really is all about who you know and being in the right place at the right time – volunteering is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and build your creative network. But it's also a great way to find out what your interested in and develop your passion.

Take the time to find the volunteering role that is right for you and be honest with yourself and the organisation you are volunteering for about what you want to get out of the experience. Don't overcommit – it's easy to take lots on, but make sure you are not spreading yourself too thin. And remember, if you are no longer enjoying your volunteer role, speak to someone about it or take some time to re-evaluate your interests.

Do you think the role of volunteering in the arts has changed since the recession?

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many cultural organisations - from a personal viewpoint I have seen volunteering becoming more commonplace since I first started working with Voluntary Arts 4 years ago. This is in part down to funding cuts, which has led to redundancies, reduced hours and more need for voluntary support but is also a ripple effect of big events like the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, both of which had mass volunteering programmes and have seen people taking that experience and passion back into their communities.

In terms of the voluntary arts sector, It is worth remembering that this is, and has always has been, driven by passionate people that give their time freely to enable themselves, and others to get creative. From volunteers that share their skills and teach others, to those more behind the scenes that sit on the committee and apply for funding.

A real DIY attitude seems to have emerged in recent years with grassroots projects popping up all over the place, a renewed interest in craft and traditional skills and the forming of self-led groups aided by sites like www.meetup.com and www.ravelry.com which are bringing about a new generation of voluntary arts groups and projects.

Voluntary Arts is responsible for championing this grassroots voluntary effort, which we celebrate each year through our annual Epic Awards.

What's the most exciting thing you've seen happening this week?

This week has been a whirlwind of creative activity, there have been many highlights, including 6 Woollen Woodsbeing installed and opened to the public on the first day of Voluntary Arts Week - showcasing some fantastic woolly creations made by young and old alike, who sent in their work from across the UK and the world to be included.

It was also great to see CraftBomb displays popping up in public spaces right across the country, organised by groups of friends, schools and craft groups.

I attended a Choir Crawl in Perth on Saturday which saw a newly formed choir traveling to each museum in the city aboard a vintage bus to perform, flashmob style, at each venue. It was great to see the surprise on peoples faces and the joy on the faces of those performing.

On Sunday I joined 800 others at the Big Sing Day at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. I am an 'in the shower singer' so to be taught some harmonies and join others to sing as part of a group was a new and liberating experience for me! I am now on the look out for a local choir to join.

To round off my Voluntary Arts Week tour I attended the Epic Awards ceremony at Media City in Salford to congratulate the amazing and inspiring winners and runners up. This ceremony never disappoints and each year reaffirms to me why I do what I do and why the voluntary arts are so important to our individual and collective wellbeing.

How can people get involved in future events?

Voluntary Arts Week is an annual festival that takes place each May. Keep in touch by signing up the the Voluntary Arts Week enews and linking with us on twitter and Facebook.

We will be announcing details of how to take part next year and updating our 'how to' tool kits soon so stay tuned!

Is there anything you'd like to promote young people right now?

Voluntary Arts has just launched a social media campaign to celebrate everyday creativity and share inspiration online - we'd love you to get involved. Simply tag your creative makes, photos or videos using the appropriate loveto hashtag (i.e. #lovetoKNIT #lovetoAct #lovetoSING #lovetoPAINT etc) so we can share your creations with the world! Link in with loveto on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Voluntary Arts is also a partner in the BBC Get Creative campaign, checkout their video (featuring some well known faces) to find out more and see how you can get inspired and get creative.


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