Volunteers are a vital part of the lifeblood for any healthy museum or art gallery. Volunteering in the arts and culture sector takes many different forms including governance, fundraising, tikanga advice, hosting in galleries and helping behind the scenes. For this column I’m focussing on volunteers who work in the gallery spaces and with the collections.
Volunteers working at the front of the museum (the public spaces) help bring the museum to life. Welcoming visitors into the gallery, they offer additional insights into exhibitions, and also listen to stories our visitors may want to share. Our volunteers know that not everyone likes being approached and they respect that. However many visitors welcome and appreciate this additional service, which personalises their museum visit. There’s nothing more satisfying when you have a connection, emotional response, or epiphany while in an exhibition, than to have someone to share it with. This ability to talk to another person – right there and then – when you are having an experience, really makes for a satisfying and unique visit.
Other volunteers give the gift of music to our visitors. There’s a dedicated group of musicians who come in and play the Bechstein piano, wherever it may be in the museum at that time. Sometimes, as exhibitions change over, a piano player may come in and find the piano has mysteriously moved to another part of the building. We know visitors enjoy hearing the piano and we hope our volunteers enjoy the occasional change of scenery when the piano is relocated.
Behind the scenes and out of the public eye is another kind of volunteer. They come in and help in all manner of ways. Scanning and processing photographs, assisting with getting objects out of storage or back into storage, sewing costumes for our education team, preparing objects for display, mounting textiles onto mannequins, and so on. While there are regular times these individuals work at the museum, they’re also called on when we have big exhibition preparation happening or a particular project to complete. For example when the ‘Uttermost Ends of the Earth: Hawke’s Bay at War 1914-1918’ exhibition was being installed we wanted to fill one of the archways in the Octagon with felt poppies. Who did we call in to make all the poppies – our lovely volunteers of course. They had a working bee round the boardroom table for several hours ensuring we had enough poppies for the effect we wanted.
Staff love our volunteers – they bring an absolute passion and positive energy with them. In appreciation of the work they do, this week we had a morning tea followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum. I’m a firm believer in volunteers and know that we couldn’t achieve everything we do without them. Volunteers are an excellent litmus test for the health of organisations such as this. I’ve seen places where volunteers start leaving in droves and, if that happens, you know there’s something seriously wrong. I’m pleased to say our steadfast group of volunteers continue to show their loyalty. These wonderful people are real community treasures, so next time you’re in the museum, do say hello to them.
Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 1 April 2017