My Volunteering Journal: Episode 29 – Venice Arts – Because Sometimes Volunteering Means Bartending

spillwineThe Venice Arts program introduces the arts, particularly photography, to underprivileged populations through accessible media-based arts education programs.

After reading about the Venice Arts program and an upcoming show entitled, "Got Caught Up Out There: Photography by Homeless Women” I knew I had to help out at the show opening. The only problem was I have zero photography talent. What's a lame duck like me to do?

I called the program anyway and Roz, the program coordinator, said that she needed volunteers, however untalented they might be. She told me to show up 30 minutes before the show, but did not specify what I would be doing. Fine. I can be adventurous. The only issue was what to wear. I imagined serious artist in my head. Not actors and writers like myself, but real artists, like beat poets. Yes, a beat poet outfit is perfect.

Dressed all in black, with sunglasses, and pulled back hair I showed up at the gallery opening thirty minutes before the show (I left out the requisite cigarette as part of the costume because they are disgusting and this is the 21st century.) Roz was running around trying to place the hors d'œuvre correctly. I helped her, which allowed me better access to the chocolate almonds and dried apricots.

At some point I started slicing limes on the drink table because I figured no one was going to want a whole lime in their sparkling water. At that point the director of the program walked up to me and said, "Oh, good you're bartending," and thus: sometimes volunteering means bartending.

I don't drink, have never bartended, but may have missed my calling. For the next three hours I made small talk, and poured sparkling water, wine, and sprite like a champ. It was fun and the time flew by. For those of you still thinking "bartending is not volunteering" may I ask if you have ever heard of or gone to an art show that did not include cheese and wine? No you have not. It's culture and these women deserved a real gallery opening for such a beautiful show.

The artists, most of them currently homeless, mixed with the guests giving explanations of their photographs. One wall had a presentation of each of the artists and their stories - sad tales of misfortune, lost loves, family disputes, and illness, which resulted in their current nomadic state.

The highlight of the night was when one of the artists stood up and talked about the class, the program, and what it had meant to her. She explained to the packed gallery that the most common assumptions made about the homeless is that they all have a drug or alcohol addiction. The truth isn’t that simple and often addiction is not the problem, as she said, “Sometimes life just throws you lemons.” This particular artist had been so moved by the class that she had recently enrolled in a Santa Monica College photography class.

The lowlight of the night was when some smarmy guy with long hair presented me with a big tip* and said, “Thank you for letting me look at you tonight.” Ick. Thanks but no thanks. Look at the photographs sir.

Art programs renew our humanity and stoke our creativity. Venice Arts always seeks new mentors and teachers to help with classes. They also offer businesses and individuals Photo Opps, which allow their young students to get valuable on the job training. Venice Arts isn’t alone, there are dozens of free art programs across the country, a quick Google search should lead you to an organization you can help today.

*All tips were left with the Venice Arts program for them to use as they saw fit.