We are continuing our series of profiles about longtime Westfest volunteers. Did you miss the first one? You can find it right here. Next up: the longest-serving volunteer, who is now official Westfest staff.
“During the festival, I’m mainly trying to take care of the volunteers, getting them coffee, meals. If it’s a cold day, I pack my car with my jackets and try to hand them out!”
Naomi Ireland is Westfest’s volunteer coordinator, responsible for piecing together the schedule that keeps the festival running. Her work starts near the beginning of the year, when she meets with festival heads Elaina Martin and Claudia Diaz to discuss what volunteers the festival needs that summer. Then it’s a matter of consulting her database, an archive of information on past volunteers.
“Without a lot of funding, I’ve had to build some things from scratch,” Ireland explains. Her recipe for organization is “a combination of Google Docs, Excel spreadsheets, everything.”
Ireland’s job isn’t about nabbing volunteers so much as creating that sense of community.
The first couple of years there were very few returning volunteers, but now Ireland estimates that approximately half of her hundred volunteers are familiar faces.
“It’s really nice to have people who want to see improvements and who want to continue to help the festival improve,” says Ireland.
Ireland is not only dedicated to organizing the festival’s many volunteers and to matching the right people with the right tasks, but also to making sure they feel appreciated for the hours they put in.
When she first moved to Kitchissippi, she didn’t have anything close to a database of contacts. “I work from home, so there wasn’t a lot of face to face time.” Volunteering with Westfest was a way for Ireland to meet people, to get involved in both her community and her city.
“It was a springboard that has really built my confidence and exposed me to a whole new management style.”
In fact, the festival’s management is the reason Ireland is so devoted to it. “I’ve really made a commitment to Elaina Martin,” Ireland says, when asked why she continues to stay involved after all these years. “She’s the driving point, the vision. She’s really tough. She knows what she wants.” Ireland is more than happy to be part of the execution of that vision.
“The fact that Westfest is free – the street and the main stages – is very important. We get people who can’t afford to go to some of the city’s other music festivals and feel welcome. There’s inclusivity. We get all walks of life and neighbours get to see people they might not usually see.”
Just like the festival-goes, Ireland’s volunteers are diverse as well, with different backgrounds and different experiences. “There was one volunteer a few years ago who had suffered a recent disability. She came out and was a street marshal, on her feet all day, walking all over about ten blocks,” explains Ireland. “She came back the next year and told me she’d had been depressed, but that experience had totally changed her year. It was an opportunity to learn what she was capable of without any pressure. It got her back in the game. There are lots of little stories like that.”