Arts Volunteers in Canada: Performing Arts

Spotlight

A 2013 Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA) study showed that “for each paid staff member, there are 17 volunteers giving their time to performing arts presenting organizations”. Whilst ushering is a typical role on performance night, especially in smaller companies, volunteers can also play a strategic role in fundraising and outreach.

I have picked three examples below of major Toronto institutions that have developed long-running relationships with their volunteers and engage them fully in the life of the company.

This is part 2 of a series of 4 posts on arts volunteers in Canada.

National Ballet of Canada

In 1951, a group of Toronto ballet enthusiasts raised funds to bring British-born ballerina Celia Franca to Canada and support the first performance of her newly formed company, the National Ballet. The National Ballet’s Volunteer Committee was formally established in 1972 to continue this fundraising work; it has contributed $6 million to date to create new productions through the Build-A-Ballet™ Fund, started in 1977 with a $150,000 gift for La Fille Mal Gardée.

To feed this fund, the Volunteer Committee operates Paper Things, a stationery and gift store in the fashionable Yorkville area ($2 million contribution since 1963), as well as the Ballet Boutique during National Ballet performances ($600,000 over the past 6 years). In previous years, the Volunteer Committee held an annual Gala event and quarterly art shows.

The National Ballet is “the only Canadian ballet company to present a full range of traditional full-length classics”. It also presents and creates new contemporary ballets, especially by Canadian choreographers. A Virtual Museum retraces the history of the company since 1975.

Video: Extract from Pur ti Miro, the 46th ballet sponsored through the Volunteer Committee’s Build-a-Ballet Fund™.

Canadian Opera Company

The Canadian Opera Company was established in 1950; it pioneered the use of surtitles, provides training to emergent artists and commissions new opera through a Composer-in-Residence programme. About 150 volunteers a year support the COC’s office operations and outreach and education efforts.

Volunteers provide assistance in the office and in the archives, act as Front of House for the Free Concert Series, welcome members at the Friends’ Lounge, operate the Opera Shop, work with the Education Programs team and offer guided tours of the performance venue and of the Opera Centre, including the music library, COC archives, wigs, costume and props departments and rehearsal spaces.

The COC also operates a Volunteer Speakers Bureau, whose members “act as ambassadors for the COC and the art form by writing and giving talks on opera at various public speaking engagements throughout the season”. After School Opera Program volunteers help the Education and Outreach team to “introduc(e) 300 children (a year) ages 7 to 12 to opera as a collective celebration of vocal music, drama and visual arts”. This opportunity is open to people looking for community arts experience and high school students who need to fulfill their community service requirements.

Video: ‘Inside Opera’ – Rehearsal of Hercules directed by Peter Sellars, COC Season 2013/2014

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Started in 1923 and merging fundraising and outreach support, the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee “is an organization committed to the financial support of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and to expanding awareness of its musical and education programs.” Fundraising activities range from a Annual Bridge Fundraiser – a full morning of cards followed by a silent auction and lunch reception – to a Team TSO at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon / Semi-Marathon and a Fine Wine Auction. Over the years, the TSVC has contributed to funding several Chairs (Concertmaster, Principal Flute, Principal Trumpet), bought several Steinways and a harp and commissioned more than 15 compositions. It also supported the TSO’s general operations, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and the TSO’s Education Programmes.

Volunteers also contribute to the orchestra’s youth & education programming: they support financially the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, enrich the experience of teachers and students attending open rehearsals and provide assistance during the Young People’s Concerts, a series of afternoon performances for children aged 5 to 12.

On concert nights, volunteers also help ticket logistics and other event duties to run the TSOundcheck scheme – discounted tickets for under 35.

Video: TSO’s Young People’s Concert – audience reaction 

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