It happened a few years ago when I was living in Dublin: I fell in love with the Festival of World Cultures. The following year I was browsing their website and found the volunteer section. Why not give it a go, I thought, and signed up. A few months later Life is a Festival was born. Ever since my first experience as a festival volunteer I’ve been hooked. ‘Festival’ became a magical word for me, a sort of road sign to a place called Being Happy. My new passion was like a favourite piece of clothing, I took it with me everywhere I went. From a jazz festival in New Zealand, a Japanese street festival in Vancouver to a documentary festival in Donegal I worked at any event that intrigued me and absolutely loved it.
Sometimes people ask why I would ‘work for free’. It wouldn’t even occur to me to see volunteering that way. In fact it’s a win win situation for everyone. Festivals get enthusiastic helpers while volunteers get to attend events and often get an exclusive behind the scenes look. At really good festivals (happy to give recommendations) you feel appreciated as a valuable member of the crew. You are a sort of goodwill ambassador for the event and it shows. It helps to have a bit of an altruistic streak and to enjoy meeting new people. Having said that, if you’re more of a shy type, there are usually plenty of alternative opportunities to get involved with a festival.
So you’ve never volunteered at a festival before and aren’t sure if it’s for you? The good news is: it can be done while working a fulltime job, with a family in tow, at any age, if you’re in a wheelchair, do not own a car or are just visiting a new place for a few days. Just follow these steps: 1. Find something that interests you or simply google for upcoming festivals in your area. 2. Do they have a volunteer section on the website? Good. No? Email them anyway and offer your help. It helps to mention that you are friendly, enjoy working with people, are flexible, reliable and punctual. This is what ALL festivals are more or less looking for. 3. You get accepted. Great. You don’t? Ask them to put you on the standby list. A word of warning: give it your all but don’t over commit. Sign up for a reasonable amount of hours that fit into your schedule. Being tired and stressed doesn’t make for a great experience and you do want to have some time to actually attend events. You can always add more shifts later. Let the volunteer coordinator know if you have any special skills or experience and whether there are any artists you’d particularly like to see, but be flexible if you don’t get the exact shifts you are hoping for.
Festivals have become such a lifestyle for me that I stopped doing regular sightseeing a few years ago. Whenever I visit a new country or city I search for community centres, independent bookshops, cultural events, meetup groups for writers, co-working spaces, indie music venues, and libraries and take it from there. What interests me about travelling is how other people live, think and create. Rather than following the well-trodden tourist path, it’s so much more exciting to meet the locals and learn about cutting edge projects, such as a novel writing marathon, a 24 hour film contest or a circus in a rainforest.
Festivals are what you make them. They are neither mindless entertainment nor boring lectures, but a living, breathing organism made up of creative people, projects and audiences who are open to learn something new, be amazed and connect with like-minded souls. Some of my best friends are people I met at festivals around the world. It’s not always easy to stay positive when we are constantly bombarded with bad news. Festivals can be a great antidote. They are their own universe, an escape from daily life or, in my case, the start of a completely new way of life. One of my goals when I started writing Life is a Festival was to keep the time between festivals as short as humanly possible and to get others excited about festivals and volunteering in the community. Both are a work in progress and I’m immensely enjoying this beautiful journey I’m on.
What are your favourite festival moments? Let us know in the comments section below. If you have any questions about festival volunteering or festival trips around the world, just drop me a line. I also offer one to one twitter coaching for musicians, writers, artists and other creative people.