Volunteers help us make progress!

July 15, 2019 By catherine-norcott
Woman seated to left of man. Both smiling. Man holding up sheet of paper.

Volunteers are very helpful.  They give me encouragement. And they are very considerate.  I like to have conversations with them. I like when they show me different artists, like Kandinsky.  – Tim S., artist

Volunteers and interns make a tremendous difference at our studio.  Yes, they are wonderful and helpful! Yes, they often have specialized skills to share, including archiving, communications, videography and design!  Yes, they have strong backgrounds as creatives, with a wealth of personal and professional experimentation! But most importantly, they show-up to build relationships with members of our studio!  

At the Chicago Studio, we had 45 volunteers and interns over the past year.  Sixty percent of those folks worked as artist mentors. This is a crucial and foundational role in our studio.  Artist mentors meet with artists to discuss their creative and professional priorities, share art history references, demonstrate techniques, and just chat about art and life.  Their impact is immediately felt by studio artists and staff members.      

There’s been a lot of volunteers who come by and talk.  I like it. I like to hear their opinions and outlook. It is great to know that they are interested in my work.  I like how volunteers go around and talk with everybody, too. They say hi, ask about your work, and can help if you need it.  love our volunteers! It’s cool working with them and meeting new people.  – Alysha K., artist

Through their time in the studio, volunteers build deep, long-lasting friendships with studio artists.  These relationships lead to more individualized and diverse supports for artists. They aren’t static and one-sided however, as many of our volunteers benefit from the leadership and self-direction of artists in our space.  As trust develops between an artist and a volunteer, they become mutually supportive.  

Jean approached me one morning.  She had a vision that involved a foray into fabric, not her usual medium, and she knew she needed another head to think it through. Jean worked with textiles years ago, so knows enough about fabric to be dangerous. Did she somehow intuit that my quilter mom had imparted just enough needle-knowledge to make me dangerous, too? With our powers combined, our trust in each other and our grace for the unexpected bumps, we were able to figure out the structure of the piece so Jean could put it all together with her own flair. I was so proud of myself. This kind of experimentation is Jean’s bread and butter. No big deal. Of course she’s going to make awesome stuff. Diving in head first with her encouraged me in my fledgling artistry. Maybe I can try something new, too – take a baby step into the unknown.  – Mary R., volunteer

Artist mentors join us for many daily activities, including artmaking, group critiques, and lunch. They help us maintain and organize our supplies.  They work with artists to keep the studio clean. They support artists to access the broader creative community through social media, art history research, and gallery visits.  Over the past fiscal year, they contributed 1,453 hours, roughly equivalent to 3 studio staffers.    

I like the volunteers!  They help us with rotations, doing artmaking, looking on social media.  Our volunteers are great helpers! – Alex S., artist 

This can seem like an overwhelming undertaking when viewed en masse. And even more so when you consider that our volunteers often have active studio practices, jobs, pets and many other commitments throughout their week.  Some of them are also students, with full course loads, tests, and projects and papers to complete. The majority of our volunteers work with us one day a week. On average, artist mentors contribute 5 hours a week to building and maintaining relationships, supporting studio artists’ creative exploration, and maintaining our studio space.  Beyond their time in the studio, our volunteers are fierce advocates and allies. They promote the accomplishments of our artists and help us become more visible in Chicago’s creative community! 

Thank you to all our volunteers!  We really couldn’t do it without you!

Arts of Life isn’t just a wonderful local resource for artists with disabilities in the Chicago community, it is part of an important national movement that works to increase community access and shifts attitudes about people with disabilities through the arts. For this reason, the artwork created at Arts of Life is crucially important work. I’m reminded of that every time I get a chance to step into the studio or peek at the gallery online. My volunteer experience at Arts of Life was extremely meaningful. – Sara M., former volunteer

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Arts of Life’s Chicago Studio, please take a moment to fill out our application.  We’ll follow-up with you to schedule a tour of our space and an orientation.  

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