Embracing the volunteer spirit

Sooke Fine Arts Show kicks off Friday – but not without a lot of helping hands

Fiona McDannold

Every year, hundreds of volunteers descend on SEAPARC Leisure Complex arena for what is one of Sooke’s biggest summer events of the year: Sooke Fine Arts Show.

It starts Friday (July 22) and runs to Aug. 1.

The arena doesn’t just transform overnight. Like a sculpture, it is hammered into shape by 300 volunteers.

For Catherine Keogan, Sooke Fine Arts Society executive director, as well as her crew, planning starts in January.

“We have about 20 teams, each one has a leader and various volunteers under them. We meet regularly in the intervening months to talk about how the show will go, how it went last year, how we can make it better,” she said.

During those months, fundraising and acquisition of silent auction items such as genuine artwork and gift certificates, is a mere fraction of the behemoth effort that moulds the final show.

After all, if people would travel to Sooke from all over B.C. and beyond to see only a bare arena, it would defeat the purpose.

“You’re feeling like you’re not really in the arena, or even in Sooke and that’s the goal. We want people to be completely transported when they walk through the door, and we love it when people ask what the place is used for when it’s not an art gallery,” Keogan said, adding that the Sooke Fine Arts Show is exactly where it needs to be in terms of its elegance and prestige.

“It’s an incredible event for this community and it really puts it on the map,” she said. “It defies expectations for Sooke, which Sooke is very good at doing.

The initiative certainly comes from within its volunteers, such as Bob Tully, who has volunteered with the Sooke Fine Art Show for the last 10 years. Tully and his team are the first ones in, last ones out.

“When my team comes in here, it’s an ice rink without the ice,” he said, that as setup team leader, his job is to make sure the foundation is laid for other teams to begin working.

Sounds like a lot, and it is, but Tully enjoys it.

“I like working with people like Katherine, and we have so much fun,” he said. “It’s gone to a point now where I’ve had so many returning volunteers that when I say, ‘this has to get done’ they go off and do it. I don’t have to sit there and supervise them.”

More than 8,000 people are expected to descend on the show.

The experience will also feature two demos every day, two hour slots in the morning and two in the afternoon; here artists will show what they do, why they do it, and some artists will even have a hands-on components for the audience to try their hand at things.

There will even have a live model sculpting going on, and Keogan hopes to get a blacksmith demonstrate some forging this year.

“It humanizes it … it’s not just art on walls, it’s about the behind the scenes part, which is a very human experience,” she said.

As far as volunteering goes, the doors are always open to dedicated participants. For Keogan, taking part in organizing the Sooke Fine Arts Show was a headlong dive into the heart of the community.

“This is for people who are new to the community and want to have that sense of connection … this is an instant family.”