Arts Volunteers in Canada: Festivals


Festivals are big business in Toronto: for film only, there are at least 70 annual festivals, represented by their own dedicated association; TIFF and NXNE rival Cannes and SXSW; Toronto Fringe draws over 90,000 people a year to watch over 150 un-juried theatre productions; Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival presents around 350 gigs at 40 locations (and has “been blessed with over 60,000 hours contributed by volunteers” since 1987); and the 10-day Pride celebrations are organised and run by over 2,000 volunteers, who even get their own dedicated website.

I’m looking here at 3 long-running, well-developed and well-documented Toronto-based volunteer programmes: a large arts centre that produces multiple summer festivals, a world-famous film festival and a civic-minded multidisciplinary arts festival.

This is part 3 of a series of 4 posts on arts volunteers in Canada.

Harbourfront Centre

Harbourfront Centre is a multi-venue arts centre that present over 4,000 events each year, many of them as part of festivals. It also runs the Power Plant, a contemporary art gallery, World Stage, an annual season of contemporary performance, and the International Festivals of Authors. Approximately 2,000 volunteers contribute their time and efforts. They are involved in many ways, from greeting visitors to filming events, helping with workshops and preparing materials for arts and crafts activities. Due to the size of the team, some volunteers also provide support to other volunteers, especially at busy periods, from on-site registration and schedule information to coordination and management.

Volunteers receive benefits according to their level of commitment: Volunteer Contributor, below 60 hours a year; Volunteer Enthusiast, over 60 hours a year; and Volunteer Leader, over 60  hours a year in a position of responsibility such as committee member, trainer or team leader. Shared benefits include free return on public transport for each shift, a volunteer recognition party, a regular newsletter and a reference letter. Additional benefits for different volunteer levels range from complimentary tickets to staff discounts on the Centre’s shop, invitation to official receptions and access to reciprocal attractions. Volunteers who contribute over 60 hours a year also receive a photo ID access pass.

Harbourfront Centre is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014 and the volunteer programme itself has been running for 30 years. The latest Volunteer e-Newsletter available (produced by a volunteer sub-committee) gives a few figures about Harbourfront’s volunteer programme: in 2013, volunteers completed 7,346 volunteer shifts and contributed 31,122 hours, which translates to approximately $540,900 in-kind contribution. Ages range from 16 to 80+, and the top-contributing volunteer clocked over 900 hours last year.

Another kind of volunteers: Harbourfront Centre auditions for Dachschund UN, presented in 2013

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

TIFF is the “leading public film festival in the world, screening more than 300 films from 60+ countries every September”. In 2012, it “featured 147 world premieres (and attracted) over 300 attending filmmakers, 4,280 industry delegates, 1,200 accredited media and over 400,000 public attendees”. Since 2010, it also operates its own venue and present a year-round programme of films, talks, exhibitions and industry services.

About 2,500 people volunteered for TIFF in 2013, a number that grows each year and include many returning volunteers, who have access to positions of higher responsibility. The programme is fiercely competitive and selection is based on a lengthy application – including 3 references – but the rewards are appealing: for each shift completed, volunteers get a voucher that they can exchange for a screening ticket. Roles range from red carpet coordinator to Q&A assistant, venue manager and plenty of behind-the-scene opportunities. In 2010, the estimated economic impact of the value of labour of volunteer hours was over $1 million.

To show its commitment to volunteers, TIFF has created a series of “Volunteer Stories” videos highlighting the diversity of motivations.

Cineplex, the Volunteer Programme Sponsor, also produces an annual trailer screened before each fim to publicly thank all festival volunteers.

Video: 2011 TIFF Volunteer Trailer by Cineplex, Volunteer Program Sponsor. Many more (excellent) trailers are available on Cineplex’s website.

It is worth noting that TIFF also recruits a surge of paid seasonal workers at festival time, selected through an annual Job Fair.

Luminato Festival

Created in 2007 to foster civic pride, spur economic growth and support artistic excellence, Luminato Festival is a 10-day annual multidisciplinary festival that has, to date, commissioned over 66 new works of art and featured 7,500 artists from 40 countries. About 500 volunteers fulfill a variety of roles each year, from Ambassadors to Team Leaders, Arts Marketing and Administrative Volunteers.

The festival has developed two teams that fit particularly well with its principles of “Collaboration, Accessibility, Diversity and Transformation”: the CultureLink Team and the Youth Volunteer Photography Team.

CultureLink is a settlement agency that helps newcomers to find employment, understand the local culture and “link the new with the old”. They have partnered with Luminato since 2010 to offer a mentored volunteering experience to new Canadians. 15 mentors and over 50 newcomers were matched in 2013, as detailed in a CultureLink post-festival newsletter that features enthusiastic participants’ testimonies. Organised in mentoring circles, they complete a total of 30 volunteer hours together, before and during the festival, to develop language and cultural competency skills as well as provide information to festival-goers.

The Youth Volunteer Photography Team is open to budding photographers aged 14-18 who are supervised and mentored by professional or pro-am photographers. The festival provides digital cameras if required and arranged an exhibition of the youth photographers’ work at the Toronto Lomography gallery.

The video below was produced during the 2013 Luminato Festival by the Volunteer Programme partner, Manulife Financial. Their contribution to their “signature cause” is detailed in a previous post on Funding for the Arts in Canada.