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Arizona Arts And Culture:
A Guide To Volunteering

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During The Thanksgiving Holiday, It May Be A Good Time To Contemplate Saying Thanks By Volunteering In The Community: Here Are Several Ideas To Get Your Brain Churning


By Chelsea Grieve
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 21, 2016 — Volunteering is a great way to become familiar with your community while also giving back. When I moved to Arizona a little over two years ago, I immediately began searching for opportunities that would allow me to get involved, meet new people, and alleviate the boredom that comes with rebuilding life in a new state. It’s a technique I’ve used in the past when moving to different communities in the Midwest and Northeast, and one I continue to stand by as a tried and true method for integrating into your new home.

Although I tried a few different programs locally that didn’t work well with my availability, I finally settled on supporting arts and culture by offering my own skills and interests at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation through volunteering to teach creative writing workshops throughout the year. Sharing my love of words with others is one of the most rewarding volunteer activities I have ever participated in.

Since I began volunteering to teach creative writing, I’ve come across many other individuals who have also dedicated time and energy to supporting the local community through programs focused on arts and culture. Some are artists; some are not artistically inclined at all. When asked why they volunteer in this capacity, a common theme emerges. Leticia, mom and professional singer and storyteller, put it best: “Doing art creates community, and volunteering creates community. Put the two together, and it’s even more powerful.”

You don’t need to be an artist to volunteer in the arts. All you need is the desire to be there and support the program! You build connections, learn something new, and give back all at the same time. Guaranteed, you will also build quite a few memories and walk away with great stories.

The possibilities for volunteering with arts in the Valley are endless. There are traditional opportunities, such as volunteering with an art museum or art center. There are also nontraditional opportunities, such as creating an arts event at the library or your church. The volunteers interviewed listed many venues and programs – both here and out of state. Their dedication to volunteering with the arts in each community they live in is more than clear.

Here are a few local programs to get your mind working but, of course, there are many, many more.

Film Festivals
The Valley hosts several film festivals throughout the year: Phoenix Film Festival, Scottsdale International Film Festival, and Desperado Film Festival. Each have great volunteer opportunities, allowing you to see films while also supporting organizations. And, if you’re looking for a short term program, it can be a once a year opportunity.

Personally, I have volunteered at the Scottsdale International Film Festival for the past three seasons and always look forward to the upcoming year. All the volunteers come from such a diverse background, including doctors, retirees, teachers, students, secretaries, call center workers, and more.

Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona
Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona’s mentorship program pairs volunteers with children working through trauma. The premise is rooted in art therapy, which uses visual arts, the creative process, and psychology to help heal and process various traumatic incidents. Mentors for Free Arts don’t need to be art therapists, however, in order to help children create and express themselves.

Avery, who also works at a non-profit theater, says the program “help[s] me understand people on deeper levels […] and to connect with young members of the community, and hopefully build their creativity and confidence for the future.”

Food Banks/Aid Groups
Volunteering in arts and culture organizations is wonderful, but what about those who need the help in more fundamental terms. St. Mary’s Food Bank is known as the world’s first food bank and they are so good at it, one can hardly doubt the claim. They provide about 200,000 meals a day. There is also St. Vincent DePaul Arizona. That group, designed to help the working poor, began in Phoenix in 1946.
Tribal Nations
Tribal nations across Arizona often host cultural festivals and celebrations highlighting crafts, language, storytelling, and dance – depending on the aim of the particular event. There are many tribal nations, which allow for a great opportunity to get involved. Oftentimes these opportunities can be overlooked, but they are well worth your time and support.

Hillary, a local non-profit professional, speaks of her time volunteering with various tribal nations as a way of learning more about the community and culture. According to Hillary, “Supporting these programs through volunteering shows genuine care and interest in the culture and the community as opposed to being compensated for involvement.”

Music Festivals
There is no shortage of music festivals here in the Valley. If you can’t afford a ticket, volunteering is an easy alternative. You get to help out and attend parts of the festival for free, hearing all the music playing during the hours you’re volunteering. I’ve met several people who enjoy volunteering at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival.

Church and Community Choir
Volunteering in a church or community choir comes up often as way to get involved while supporting the arts. Of course, these opportunities are connected with local places of worship, so check out yours if you’re interested.

Another great option is the Phoenix West Threshold Choir is the local chapter of a much larger organization, with chapters in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Cambodia, and Australia. Volunteers sing to individuals on the threshold of life and death.

There are many ways to volunteer in your child’s school, which not only helps you learn about the community and the people your child is around every day but also helps teachers who are already stretched to the max.

The Mesa Public Schools Masterpiece Art Program is a great example of volunteering with arts in the school. When Leticia speaks volumes about the benefits of this program that draws on visual arts, history, and communication skills. Even though she herself is not a visual artist she could still use her own skills to contribute.

With the wheels in your mind turning, it’s time to get out and volunteer! How can you (or how do you) contribute to your local arts and culture programs?

Chelsea Grieve is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.
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