The top 45 ways to volunteer in the arts in Toronto
Want to volunteer in the arts in Toronto? It may seem like an oxymoron with many artists in the city not getting any real money for the work they do. But while stable, well-paying arts jobs are scarce; Toronto is filled with volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in getting experience in the field and a chance to do the kinds of things that you would never be able to do otherwise.
So whether this is your way of adding a few lines to your resume in hopes of a new career, or simply to foster your creative side, or support your community, there are a lot of ways to be artsy in Toronto without getting a pay cheque.
Here are my picks for the ways to volunteer in the arts in Toronto.
There's nothing like the experience of live-theatre, living breathing performances that change nightly depending on the audience and the mood in the room, and theatre people are firecrackers...beautiful narcissistic firecrackers.
The Toronto Fringe is the best introduction to theatre in this city. Young talents looking to break into the city's arts scene dominate the youthful festival. Fringe's lifeblood is volunteers who help make the dynamic festival a success. As a volunteer you can help with front of house, the box office, the administrative team or with the Fringe Club, where the real action of performance art, pop-up shows, musical acts and of course food and drink happens.
At the SummerWorks Performance Festival you not only get a chance as a volunteer to help with things like ticket sales and ushering audiences but if you're lucky you might be a part of one of their Live Art performances. In the past volunteers have played integral roles in productions like The Stranger and Ecoute Pour Voir. In these pieces volunteers with acting or dance backgrounds took on the role of interpreters or extras.
Other great theatre volunteer opportunities include Buddies in Bad Time's annual Rhubarb Festival, Progress Festival, and Next Stage Theatre Festival.
Judging from the number of film crews crowding our streets in the summer months, Toronto is now a fully-fledged film hub. So if the silver screen is your vice this city can give you a chance at the end credits.
Hot Docs is the place to be if documentary films are your thing. The annual spring festival brings some of the world's best documentary filmmakers to our city and Bloor Hot Docs theatre is where to be for all the excitement. As a Hot Docs volunteer you can helps usher, sell tickets or even act as a production assistant helping with the set-up and running of the festival's various events.
The Toronto International Film Festival deserves some of the credit for making our city a film destination. TIFF has grown into a mammoth event that takes over multiple theatres and venues in the city. Last year the festival even closed down King St. to host a street fair. As a TIFF volunteer you can act as a translator for the artists participating in the festival, sell-tickets and most importantly get a front-row spot for celebrity watching.
If you're into taking part in a smaller film festival that might just be Toronto's next TIFF or Hot Docs you might want to check out opportunities with the Diaspora Film Festival, the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Inside Out!, or the Reel Asian International Film Festival to name a few.
The best part of living in a cultural metropolis like Toronto is having regular access to the various art galleries and museums in the city. From coveted volunteer spots at the AGO to helping with small local galleries like Videofag there's a lot of ways you can immerse yourself in visual arts.
The ROM is the main game in town if your interests lie in art and cultural artifacts. With shows like the Douglas Coupland exhibit and their monthly Friday Night Live http://www.rom.on.ca/en/activities-programs/rom-friday-night-live the museum is becoming less of a fossil and more of a focal point. As a volunteer you can help run hands-on activities for adult visitors or kids, assist with research, help run educational initiatives and much more.
The Power Plant one of Canada's leading contemporary galleries offers a number of volunteer opportunities from greeting and interacting with visitors, to photographing and videotaping lectures, to assisting with events there's a lot of chances to build-up your art creds here.
Other great options for a volunteer looking for a meaningful art gig are the Museum of Inuit Art, the Aga Khan Museum or the Ryerson Art Space.
If your interests in art is wide ranging you may want to consider getting involved in a festival, in the summer months particularly, the city is bursting with festivals that spill out onto the streets with exhibitions of dance, outdoor film, music, theatre and more.
Luminato dubs itself as Toronto's multi-disciplinary Festival of Arts and Creativity. This summer festival needs volunteers to help act as ambassadors who welcome and actively engage guests at the different venues, info team members who make programming recommendations, and as team leaders who manage groups of volunteers and act as the contact point between open sites and venue staff.
The Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto is a three-week cultural explosion of Caribbean music, cuisine, revelry as well as visual and performing arts. As it approaches its 50th anniversary the festival has become a major international event and the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America. If you're a fan of Caribbean music and art you can get involved by running costume-making workshops for youth to helping with logistics during the festival.
Other festivals that you might want to check out as a volunteer are Pride, Doors Open, Tirgan, an Iranian art and culture festival at Harbourfront, Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche, or Buskerfest North America's largest street performer festival.
Our new mayor, John Tory, was at SXSW this year checking out hip hop acts and ways for Toronto to become a music destination like Austin Texas. So here's hoping he comes home with more than just pipe dreams about our city's music prospects so we can translate some of these volunteer positions to real jobs in music.
Girls Rock Camp Toronto if you think there's not enough women in music and want to help foster the next generation of female rock starts these volunteer positions will speak to you. The camp is looking for people who can act as instrument instructors, band coaches, workshop leaders, sound people and lead roadies and more. So go mentor the next girl-band.
NXNE is known as the most anticipated summer music event in Canada. The festival bring artists from all over the world to our city's music venues and offers volunteers a chance to get that backstage roadie experience. The festival also brings in a lot of industry-insiders sharing tricks of the trade so you can ease-drop your way to a lot of musical know-how as a volunteer helping out with the events.
Long Winter is the place to be if you want to help put the next big Toronto act on the city's musical map. The festival is the brainchild of a few members of Fucked Up and continues to feature some of the city's most innovative acts. The entire festival is volunteer run, so by getting involved you can help book acts, promote the festival, and try your hand at event logistics.
Reading is hot, and bookworms are a coveted commodity, if you don't believe me just checkout Hot Dudes Reading. So if you want to volunteer in circles where a great book is the only essential accessory bookmark a few of these organizations.
International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront is the premiere Canadian event for book nerds. The fall festivals brings the best writers of contemporary world literature to Canadian readers for 11 days of readings, interviews, round table discussions and book signings. As a volunteer you can have the most coveted book-shelf among your friends. This is where I got to meet Salman Rushdie and get my hands on a signed copy of his controversial Satanic Verses.
Word on the Street is a national book and magazine festival in the fall that celebrates everything literary. As a volunteer you can take on a bunch of tasks from pre-festival administrative jobs, to author liaison positions, to on-site customer service work. This just might be your chance to build enough of a rapport with a best selling author to merit more than the generic "best wishes" signature in your coveted first-edition-hard-cover.
Other options to book-loving volunteers are the with programs at the Toronto Public Library or with groups like Diaspora Dialogues a mentorship program for diverse writer.
The lines between dance, theatre and performance art are eroding and some of the most innovative companies are producing pieces that defy these classifications. Nevertheless one constant shared by these companies is a need for volunteers.
FADO Performance Art Centre is one of the many artists run collective that counts on volunteers to make their productions a success. People who start as volunteers at FADO helping with promotion, site visits and logistics for site-specific shows often end up progressing to mounting their own workshops and collaborating with the artists they met as volunteers.
Wheel Dance, is a hub for social and competitive wheelchair ballroom and Latin dance in Canada. The organization is constantly in need of volunteers who can act as dance partner, participate in classes as a standing partner. As well as people who can assist with their marketing and social media- work and their website development.
Other volunteer opportunities in dance can be found at the Toronto Swing Dance Society, Ballet Creole or The National Ballet of Canada.
These days we all fancy ourselves photographers with smartphones equipped with cameras and digital editing tools that transform our blurry and poorly cropped snaps into sharable photos. Almost every arts organization is looking for assistance from professional or aspiring photographers who can help them document their efforts. But for anyone who has a real interest in photography there are a few places to go.
Ryerson Image Centre is ground zero for anyone who wants to be around a collection of great photographs or a community of researchers investigating various issues related to image arts. Get involved in the centre as a volunteer and help with their exhibitions, archiving or research work.
Harbourfront Centre is one of the many organizations in need of event photographers. So if you want to hone your skills as a photojournalist you might want to sign up to capture the dance, music and festivities on display at this venue. In
The Toronto Poetry Slam offers multiple volunteer opportunities for anyone who wants to take part in the word games. You can help out by keeping score at the slams, promoting and running events or by assisting with The BAM! their youth poetry slam competitions.
When Sister's Speak/When Brother's Speak are two of the many poetry slam events organized by Scarborough based Dwayne Morgan. As most spoken word initiatives this is a community rooted venture. Morgan often works with volunteers on his events assessing individual talents to slot people into roles ranging from youth empowerment work to event planning and promotion.
If you want to volunteer in the arts in community centered projects that help to empower communities there are a lot of different options available in Toronto, many of which mean working with children and youth.
Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre is an innovator when it comes to using art to give a marginalized community a voice as well as the skills to pursue future careers. This is a community new media, radio, and television broadcasting centre that allows young people in the Regent Park community to tell their own stories about their lives and neighbourhood. As a volunteer you can help young people get training as photographers, videographers, radio journalists and digital storytellers.
Sketch gives creative training and arts skills to street-involved, homeless and at-risk youth. As a volunteer you can help put from anything from administrative and logistical support to facilitating arts workshops and running programs for youth.
Other opportunities for volunteering on community-oriented projects in the arts are with Manifesto, at the No.9 Eco-Art-Fest at Todmorden Mills, a three month long outdoor art festival nestled in Toronto's Don Valley.
What did I miss? Add your suggestions for the best arts volunteer opportunities in Toronto in the comments below.
Follow Sima Sahar Zerehi on Twitter @SimaSaharZerehi. Photos by Jesse Milns and Photosapience
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