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Lotus Volunteers: Homegrown Citizens Of The World

The magic dust that transforms Bloomington into a multicultural mecca for Lotus weekend also converts mere mortals into an elite corps of volunteers.

On the first Thursday in September, Lotus Volunteer Coordinator Tamara Loewenthal was running the numbers for members of the Festival Support Committee. “As of today,” Loewenthal reported to the incredulous group, “there are only nine unconfirmed Friday shifts!”

With 450 volunteers in the database three weeks out, Loewenthal was fairly confident. “I think we’re where we should be,” she asserted. “But I know, because of rejections and cancellations, we’re going to need another 75.”

An Improbable Ratio

Having already managed to entice 450 community members to volunteer in some capacity during this year’s festival, Loewenthal herself is one of only four people who get paid to run Bloomington’s world-renowned music festival. And her position is technically only part-time. It’s a ratio that one doesn’t often see, even in the scrappy world of nonprofit arts organizations.

Many Lotus volunteers are multi-year veterans, who not only pitch in during the festival itself checking wristbands, selling T-shirts and dismantling sets; but take the long view of Lotus throughout the year, serving on committees overseeing everything from Venues and Streets to Artist Relations.

Stepping Up For A Season

Geoff McKim started in the merchandise tent ten years ago before joining the Festival Support committee and taking over database management for the organization. A shift in ticket sales sometime around the year 2000 was what hooked committee member Lynn Schwartzberg, who moved over to the festival store, where she spends the entire weekend of Lotus. “I don’t go to the festival at all,” Schwartzberg explained. “I just work it.” She doesn’t mind the sacrifice, she says,

because this is something our community values. Without people who are willing to step up for their season–however many years that is–it just wouldn’t happen. So I figure it’s just my turn.

A Corps With Cachet

The fact that volunteers are willing to forfeit their own attendance at the festival for the sake of making the event happen suggests that Lotus has somehow accessed the holy grail of volunteering—that magic dust that transforms a mere mortal into an altruistic community member.

Opinions abound on the subject of how Lotus has managed to imbue volunteering with cachet. There’s the much-coveted, volunteer-only T-shirt, for starters. “To be a Lotus volunteer is to join an elite corps,” joshes Loewenthal, “and the T-shirt proves it.”

For others, it’s the immediate gratification of the admission exchange. Lotus thanks those who work a six-hour shift during the festival with admission to the festival on a night they’re not working.

The Human Touch

But for the veteran Lotus volunteer, there’s something deeper going on. Many cite the human connection. Simply speaking, volunteering for Lotus is a great opportunity to meet new friends; beyond that, there’s something about the event itself that encourages esprit de corps. Committee member Mark Hurley explains,

The artists have a joy in sharing their tradition that permeates the festival. So there’s a sense that we’re all part of a community that’s sharing what we have, from the volunteers washing the towels and taking the tickets to the artists on stage.

Event Information

Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

A multi-venue festival featuring musical performers and artists from around the world.

Multiple indoor and outdoor venues around Bloomington

Thursday, September 22-Sunday, September 25, 2011

Advance tickets: $22-56; day of show: $27-66; 3 and under, free

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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