Our City

Thank You Freaks: An Ode to the Collective

It’s National Volunteer Week, so it felt fitting for me to reflect on volunteerism within Brain Arts...


“The best part of volunteering is knowing that you impacted at least one person positively. A close second is just hanging with the Hassle.” —Kat M.

It’s National Volunteer Week, so it felt fitting for me to reflect on volunteerism within Brain Arts, and wax poetic a little on the incredible work our volunteers are doing now.

You might have heard the spiel before: Brain Arts is made up of 150-200 (mostly) unpaid volunteers. We don’t have a sustainable business model (yet) so we rely heavily on people willing to give away their time and talent for the sake of creating and promoting underground arts and cultural events in the greater Boston area. How in the world does a small local nonprofit attract so many already busy people willing to work for free? I think the reason lies in the promise of a collective.

One of the perks of being volunteer coordinator is getting to read all the volunteer applications that come through the website. A little less tedious than a college application, but more involved than an online dating profile, it can reveal a lot about the person who wants to be a part of our organization. Each submission is unique of course, and I don’t think I’ve encountered a repeat video link, but when it comes to explaining their volunteer interest, the gist of it usually is: “I’m an (x), I love what you all do as an organization and I want to be involved in the best way I can.” The individuals wanting to volunteer for us essentially want to be a part of something great, and I can’t blame them; Brain Arts is special in what it does for the city and its culture.

What I like most about Brain Arts as an organization is its commitment to creating truly inclusive participatory arts spaces. I hold great contempt for institutions that put a premium on arts accessibility, and further widen the gap between “high” and “low” brow culture. It’s 2018, art is for everybody, and we need to make it more widely available, not less.

And that participatory culture begins with our volunteers because it’s an easy way to make the transition from arts spectator to participant. As a volunteer for Brain Arts you could be doing sound for a show, or promoting it digitally on social media or on the streets by flyering. Maybe you made that flier, or you’re writing up the review of that show on this website. There are so many hands that touch the process, the work we do as an organization would be impossible without the dedication of our volunteers who believe in our mission of “lifting local, independent & underground arts and music to the perceptual forefront.”

“Volunteering gives me a sense of validation, like I’m doing something I would want to do anyway but that is beneficial to and appreciated by more people than just myself.'” —Tom F.

Admittedly, I find that last part easy to forget when I’m drowning in emails or hitting a roadblock on the way to building a sustainable organization. Cultural spaces within this country especially feel like increasingly hostile environments where the personal and political intersect and making the case for the arts feels like making a case for people’s livelihood. In times of frustration and lack of forward progress I’ll ask myself, “Does any of this even matter?” If you’re a volunteer—active or prospective—who shares that sentiment, I can promise you, it does.

Because of our volunteers, we can pay our musicians and we can make our shows free for attendees under 18. Because of volunteering we can disseminate information on arts programming throughout the city via distribution of our newspaper and we can provide a platform for artists who may not otherwise have had that kind of access. Plus so, so, so much more. Perhaps it’s a hard sell, volunteerism as a radical act, but when you volunteer your time for our organization you’re effectively making a statement in support of fringe arts as crucial social benefit to our community. Without our volunteers, there would be no Brain Arts, and without Brain Arts, I doubt the condition of the Boston underground scene would be as stable as it is today.

It’s so great that we happen to begin National Volunteer Week with the Black Market, one of the most volunteer-heavy events we put on throughout the year. Each time I’m there I am struck by this moment of awe as I watch our volunteers bustle through the Elk’s Lodge setting up tables, serving coffee, and making our market guests feel comfortable and welcome to the space. I am reminded to feel thankful for the collective and how our front-facing work reflects positively on the organization and ourselves. I feel unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by people who are warm, kind, and take the work they do seriously, because it does make a difference in the experiences of the people we serve.

I’m also so thankful for the volunteers that will put in the innumerable hours of work that occur behind-the-scenes and after-hours to sustain our projects. Our volunteers will work until the job is done. It can be hard to ask them to perform tasks of this nature as it can demand countless hours and high-level skills, yet we still manage to find folks willing to do them at no cost to us. It’s kind of wild, actually.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the relationships I’ve been able to cultivate inside and outside the organization. There are volunteers here I can call my friends, and I think that also speaks to the power of the collective and how the mutuality of acceptance you can encounter forms our bonds. The volunteers are people I admire and have a deep respect for because of their work ethic, self-motivation, and optimism. Plus they’re cool and have great taste in music. I hope I’ve done right by them and this organization as volunteer coordinator. It’s a position I’m honored to serve.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Brain Arts, fill out our volunteer form!

“I feel at home when I’m at a Hassle show. It’s a home we, a dedicated group of unpaid volunteers & artists, built together, and constantly fight to occupy (due to evil forces like gentrification, venues closing, noise complaints, scene killers etc…). The odds are stacked against us but we keep on doing this crazy thing!” —Melissa R.


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