The art of volunteering

More than 200 volunteers help make arts events happen in Juneau

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council is a large part of why the film, fine arts and music community in Juneau is as active as it is. But the arts council can do only what it does with the help of its nearly 200 volunteers, members said.

"Our executive director is already working 50 hours a week, and then we have all of these events going on. We need the volunteers to make it possible," said Steve Hamilton, a volunteer and member of the council's board of trustees.

Juneau nonprofit organizations are recognizing the contributions of the community's many volunteers this week, as America celebrates the 30th annual National Volunteer Week.

Local volunteers help visitors to town, children, the homeless and the hungry. By working with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, volunteers help residents gain access to art events that are "off of the beaten path," said Hamilton.

The arts council sponsors several arts events every month and has done so since it was formed in 1972, said Executive Director Sybil Davis. It hosts monthly fine art exhibits in its Franklin Street gallery; presents a film series of small-budget, independent or foreign films; hosts musicians from a large variety of genres; organizes the summer concert series at Marine Park; and raises money and distributes scholarships for local art students.

"Our organization continues to grow," Hamilton said. "We have more and more concerts and more and more this and that, and we only have a small staff. We need volunteers to help with our programs; otherwise we can't grow."

Volunteers with the council can work as little as a couple hours per month selling tickets or distributing programs at film screenings, or, as one volunteer did, helping write grants to fund new programs, Davis said.

"We would love volunteers in the office to do specific things," she said. In exchange for their work, volunteers are rewarded with free tickets to the events they help put on.

The nearly 200 volunteers are also part of keeping the arts in Juneau vibrant, Hamilton said.

"We try to bring in concerts, films that people wouldn't normally see," Hamilton said. "We just want to try to expose people to something a little different."

Many volunteers share Hamilton's commitment to the arts in Juneau.

"First of all I do it because I'm interested in the arts, and I believe in keeping the arts active in Juneau," said Ellen Walker, who has volunteered for the arts in Juneau since she moved here in 1997.

"I also think it's sometimes a community involvement thing," she said. "I'm in the community. I'm giving back."

Walker serves on the film committee for the council, one of several options for volunteers, Davis said.

"We have a film committee, a concert committee, a scholarship committee, a gallery committee," she said.

The committees meet to choose upcoming events, and the staff of the JAHC - Davis and an assistant - handle the planning.

Volunteers do not have to spend a certain number of hours per month working at the arts council, Davis said. One film committee volunteer is a movie buff who lives in New York City and alerts other members to new films they might otherwise miss.

Many Juneau residents help out at the council without even officially volunteering, Davis said.

"People tell us, 'Hey, you've got to get this film,' and we jump on it," she said. "We want to be really responsive to the community and meet the community demands and needs."

The council could use some computer expertise, Davis said.

"I need a volunteer who has PageMaker expertise to give us some help," said Davis, referring to publishing software made by Adobe. "I have a new administrative assistant and neither one of us know PageMaker ... and we need to learn. It would save us money, and in return we could give them tickets or something."

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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