Volunteer in Montclair.
It is that time of year in Montclair when festivals are in full bloom all around town. We have the Montclair Film Festival, the Montclair African American Heritage Parade & Festival and The Montclair Jazz Festival sponsored by Jazz House Kids. Three major festivals in a town of 38,000 residents that have garnered major national and international recognition, with the Montclair African American Heritage Parade & Festival being the longest running. That festival has been going for 26 years and has no signs of slowing down.
As these festivals gear up every year, the call for volunteers begins to sound loud and clear. A lot of the success on the ground can be directly attributed to the amount and type of volunteer force that signs up.
Just what do these volunteers do? Well, they kind of do just about everything that the paid staff and professionals don’t have time to do. There is also a group called professional volunteers that are sometimes called on to back up and in a lot of cases are more experienced than paid staff and lend their expertise to that effort of getting those tricky details done.
A lot of us at one time have been volunteers; it is a good way to start getting into what you might want to do. But, you may not get the volunteer assignment that you are seeking and may have to just do another slot until the one you are looking for opens up.
My first volunteer effort was my own experience as co-producer of the Montclair Blues & Jazz Festival in 1986. What else could I have been but a volunteer; we paid for everything out of our pockets. We asked friends to help with certain things such as creating posters, distributing flyers, securing the venues and hiring the performers. Another volunteer effort that I became involved with was the Garden State Music Awards in the mid to late 80s. I do remember helping to set up a couple of committees and recommend several artists for awards.
The Montclair Blues & Jazz Festival continued for 14 years and brought some of the best local and regional jazz and blues artists to the area. This is a tough volunteer job for anyone who gets involved in an arts performance organization from the ground up. It was an eye opening experience for me. For nearly the entire 14 year history of the Montclair Blues & Jazz Festival, I was a volunteer. There were some exceptions, like being paid when I performed or when there was enough money to pay for production work.
Another organization that I became involved with in 1990 was the Montclair African American Heritage Parade & Festival. This organization is still an all-volunteer organization 26 years later. When I got involved, it was a grass-roots committee that developed the concept of a parade & festival, which Montclair did not have at the time. During my involvement, I headed up the entertainment committee. Some of my duties included hiring the artists, hiring the sound companies and doing stage management, as well as developing the contracts to hire the artists.
Another organization that I became involved with was the Montclair Arts and Cultural Alliance (MACA). During my tenure with MACA, I became involved in several of its programs including three children’s arts festivals. I was also the primary developer for the Montclair Arts Awards which took place in 1994 and 1995.
In early November of 2003, Paul Brown, Glen Frieson and I embarked on another all-volunteer effort to photograph members of Montclair’s Jazz Community. We called it the Montclair Jazz Project, which resulted in a photo shoot that included 50 members of Montclair’s Jazz Community. From that effort, sprang Jazz Month in Montclair and the Montclair Jazz Archives all volunteer efforts.
Being a volunteer can be a rewarding experience, but hard work is usually part of the formula of a successful volunteer. And sometimes that volunteer job can turn into a successful professional career as well.