Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Volunteers are a Precious Resource

I've just completed one of the biggest logistical winter programs of my eight years at Clermont:  The Out of Time Fashion Show.  And as I was bouncing around from room to room of Central House Hotel, looking for emergencies to solve (because that is what I do at events), I was amazed to watch a smoothly-performing machine of volunteer labor.

I mean, on the one hand, I was not amazed because Clermont has built up a bunch of really good volunteers.

But I couldn't help feeling like some sort of magic was happening while I watched all the pieces and people come together to produce something pretty fabulous (if I do say so myself).


I get some inkling of this feeling at almost all the events I do here at Clermont.  It takes a lot of people to run an event.  Our little fashion show alone included 11 models, 2 dressers, 5 people to produce food, 2 make up artists (generously donated by Face Stockholm), 2 people supervising tickets and entry, 2 photographers, 2 maintenance guys who moved all my stuff there and back, the hotel manager, and me.  That's..let see...28 people.  And only 6 of them were on New York State payrolls.

Volunteers are an absolutely vital part of making museums work.  Especially in an age where funding gets trickier and trickier to find, just getting enough manpower to make things happen can mean the difference between success and failure of our programming.

So what do our volunteers do?  A little bit of everything.  Some of the most visible these days are my costume volunteers.  Some members of this group are actors; others come for non-speaking costumed programs like the Fashion Show and Candlelight Evening.  It's been great watching them learn about costuming as they come to more events--almost every one of them can lace a corset now.  These same costumed events also need knowledgeable dressers, make up artists, and hair stylists.  You don't have to dress up to take part in these cool events!

Other volunteers have different skills to offer.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

Bakers--Almost every lecture, party, tea, etc. that we have here depends heavily on volunteer cooks.  And every time someone brings me a little box of Russian tea balls, my heart melts (mostly because I am hoping to have one before the end of the day--they're my favorites).  As an added bonus, some of our bakers are also really good at setting up a good table.  If I'm going to have food at an event, it needs to look good.  Our food volunteers stack tea cups, chop fruit, and arrange platters with aplomb, giving our events a sparkling polish.  Food events happen year-round so even volunteers with a busy home life can find at least one or two events to bake for over the course of the season.

Pumpkin Carvers--One of my favorite unusual volunteer opportunities comes up every October.  We buy 100-300 pumpkins each year, and we need help carving them!  Almost 200 people will see your pumpkins each weekend so it's a great place to get your pumpkins seen if you are an old pro who wants an audience.  Don't think you're any good?  We've gotten good enough to teach people now so contact me in October if you think you can help.  It's sloppy work, but seeing a line of glittering pumpkins outside the mansion will give almost anyone a sense of satisfaction.

Events--Events are the most staff-intensive thing most museums do.  It takes "all hands on deck" to make big programs like the Sheep & Wool Showcase or our Old Fashioned Fourth of July happen.  We need volunteers to help make the fun parts happen: man information booths and help with children's crafts.  As an added benefit to helping out the museum, you get free entry for yourself once your shift is done!

Tour Guides--This is one of the rarest breed of volunteers because it can be demanding, but also very rewarding.  If you like history and talking to the public, it might be something for you to consider.  Our volunteer tour guides work 2-4 days a month guiding tours for the general public.  Tours are Wed-Sun from April to October and new volunteers receive several days of training with an experienced guide.

Gardens--We have a lot of gardens to maintain and more that we want to plant.  Gardening volunteers come a couple days a month or more (depending on their personal schedule) to work side-by-side with Clermont's horticulturalist.  It's a great way to enjoy the site or even learn a bit about garden maintenance if you need pointers for home.  Plus, you get to see members of the public enjoying the fruits of your labor every time you come. 


The fact of the matter is that museums are a really varied places where a lot of jobs have to get done.  If you have a skill that you'd like to use, hone, or share, please talk to us about doing so here at Clermont.  We're here seven days a week, year round, and we'd love to talk to you about what you can do.  Call (518) 537-4240 or write info@FriendsofClermont.org to help out!