Up Here 5 is officially over, but not for its volunteers.
In the days — and weeks — leading up to the urban music and art festival, volunteers work hard to get everything ready, then push through exhaustion to take it all down and wrap up loose ends.
“The good thing about volunteering is you don’t have to wait to have fun,” said volunteer Claudine Gagne. “It’s like Christmas with the buildup, this way the festival lasts a week!”
This year, more than 140 people contributed their time and energy; Some for the first time, some back for their fifth year in a row. Volunteers help with everything from selling merch to painting murals to fetching knives for a hip hop collective from Iceland to mock disembowel an audience member … and that just scratches the surface.
We tracked down a few of these dedicated volunteers and distracted them from their important work to find out why they do what they do.
Out of the 40-plus we met, well over half said the sense of community is what stood out the most.
“You’re instantly part of a community,” said family day co-ordinator Shala Gagnon, summing up the sentiments of so many others. “There’s a family to be found here.”
That family involves a crew of team leads who endeavour to make every volunteer feel comfortable and engaged.
“The co-ordinators just go out of their way to make sure everyone’s well taken care of,” said Cody Blanchett.
“You’re treated like family, like a person, not a number,” added Carrie Linklater.
For some volunteers, the festival provides a valuable opportunity for them to test the limits of their comfort zone and try new things.
“It’s exposure to things I would never be exposed to otherwise, in a good way!” said Mikko Piironen. “I am very straight-laced and this is like shock therapy for me.”
Other said volunteering helped them develop skills to apply in real life.
“It helped to get more skills in the box office, and in social skills,” said Michelle Desbiens.
While every single volunteer had something positive to say, some noted that by day three … they were starting to feel just a little drained from all the fun (and work).
“I’m punch drunk right now,” said Richard Tomlin when asked for a statement on volunteering. “We all get really, really tired.”
In fact, some volunteers — such as merch superstar Hilary Duff — were rendered speechless, and others-like artist hospitality volunteer Sabrena Reid-resorted to gibberish when asked for their take on volunteering.
Fortunately, one volunteer still had enough stamina to articulate how they felt about volunteering for the festival as it neared its grand finale on Sunday.
“It’s a powerful thing to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” said Matt Beech.