Why you should consider volunteering
I recently curated the Human Nature exhibit at the District of Columbia’s Art Center. I am very proud of that show, as I am of the artists who participated, so I was excited when I was asked to
describe my role in this exhibition for this edition of The Washington Sculptor. Yet, upon further reflection, I thought that it might be a better opportunity to talk about the recent changes in me that allowed me to organize such a show. There is no doubt that my work with WSG played a significant part.
I believe that WSG is one of the best-run art organizations in the city but, like all non-profit organizations, it needs members dedicated to continuing the work it does. We on the WSG Board are all volunteers, and we value all volunteer efforts, but what we need most right now is more people willing to join the board, so that the workload is more manageable. This is not an acute problem, but it could be if we don’t start training the next generation of board members and organizers and spread out those duties. There are many personal benefits to volunteering, which I will discuss below, but the more important reason is that you will be ensuring that WSG continues to provide the best quality opportunities to show sculpture in top venues with top jurors into the future.
Over the last five years, I have made a greater effort to give back to our art community. This started with making myself more available to individual artists by going to shows, helping others install, and interjecting where I could, but these efforts gravitated to organizing through groups like the Washington Sculptors Group. Soon I was writing for the newsletter, heading up diversity initiatives, and conducting career training.
Once I got behind the scenes, it was painfully obvious that there is a lot of unseen, yet vital, work being done to bring local arts to the public. Until I peeked behind the curtain, I had not realized how much I owed to the labors of others.
While I am sure that there are a number of reasons for getting involved, I think altruism should top the list. There is growing scientific data that indicates that doing something for someone else makes us happier, and perhaps intuitively we know this. Yet, the benefits don’t stop there. Spending time with hardcore volunteers reveals a wealth of knowledge about the local art world that would be almost impossible to duplicate from the outside. When this is coupled with making connections between instrumental players within the aesthetic community, however charitable these volunteers might be, there is no question that they are also networking at the highest levels, and that it benefits them professionally to do so.
Like many artists, I have spent a good part of my practice building my career. There is no question that some practical strategies are necessary for bringing artwork to the public’s attention, but what is often missing from much of this advice is how social this field is. Without making honest connections with people, many of the recommendations that self-help books prescribe can look predatory, without experiencing the culture from the inside, many approaches may lack context, and without working alongside a network of people, many
possibilities would be missed.
My tenure on the board has paid off in many ways. I cut my teeth writing articles for this newsletter and now I write for East City Art as well. With the help of others, I arrange online professional advice for WSG. Attending the once-a-month (Zoom) board meetings regularly,
I learn the best ways to organize exhibitions. It is fair to say that I would not have seen myself as a writer of any sort without being asked to contribute to The Washington Sculptor or would not have seen myself as any sort of career development host without finding colleagues that helped me arrange those panels.
Returning to my original point, the knowledge I gained from working with WSG enabled me to curate the current class of DCAC’s Sparkplug collective for their first show, Human Nature, because without that connection I would not have had the confidence I needed to work with people effectively.
Curation, when it is done best, is a creative and cooperative process, so I am glad to be exploring this side of presenting work because it dovetails with some of my larger needs to contribute to the community that has given me so much. Curation is not as simple as picking out beautiful objects. It takes aesthetic and social know-how to arrange shows, but most importantly it also requires the ability to combine the thoughts of others in a constructive way. These are all skills that develop best in an arena where common standards have been tested and mentors abound.