Artomatic: Be a volunteer

Transforming a former Defense Department building in Crystal City into Artomatic’s hub of creative whimsy takes a lot of helping hands.

The month-long, innovative smorgasbord, which includes cabaret performances and animated films, occupies 10 floors of the building through June 23. The unjuried extravaganza features more than 1,000 artists, and each one pays a $110 entry fee, sets up his or her own art and works several volunteer shifts to participate, but organizers still need other people to pitch in and donate their time.

Duties include checking identifications for wristbands and leading a children’s workshop. “Participating artists have an equal fill in it because they do their three shifts when they sign up,” explained event gallery manager Jeanan Humphrey, a fellow volunteer.

In early April, when artists were starting to install their work, the space was barren, the hallways empty. As Humphrey gave one group of exhibitors a 15-minute orientation to explain their tasks for the night, Sarah Murphy, 28, was finishing her shift.

“I just spent the last five hours taking doors off of the hinges [to create Artomatic’s performance stages],” she said. “Next time I’m volunteering during the show. I might be answering questions for people, or you can put tour groups together. You can sort of curate your own tour going to see your favorite art and just bring people with you. Or you can bartend. I did that last time, which was cool.”

Following the orientation, Humphrey led a fluorescent-vested quartet downstairs to supervise the loading dock as artists brought in their pieces.

Upstairs on the eighth floor, Anne Benolken, a Montgomery College computer graphics professor, was hanging her photographs of dioramas she created of the Hindu goddess Kali. The Artomatic veteran stresses the importance of volunteers: “There have been Artomatics with no elevators that worked, and people helped me carry things up.”

Humphrey estimated that 50 non-artist volunteers get involved. Weekends and late nights — and especially late nights on weekends — are the times when Artomatic could use more good Samaritans.

“On those late-night shifts, I have scheduled the minimum number of people I would like to have here to run the building and have the bars open,” she said. “I’ve calculated it to be 36. Some shifts I only have eight people signed up, so I’ll be looking to get 30 more people.”

There are opportunities to bartend — alcohol-awareness training sessions will be held — and to work the freight elevator that helps artists move their pieces. And you can still contribute after Artomatic ends, because the dismantling of the installations runs through mid-July. For non-artist volunteers, the minimum time requirement is one five-hour shift.

But the more often you’re on-site, the more likely you’ll reap the benefits of artistic altruism, said Arlington resident Henrik Sundqvist, who is exhibiting his prints. “They can talk to artists and really get to know an artist from another side — other than [in] a gallery.”

Coronado is a freelancer writer.

Where is it? 1851 S. Bell St., Arlington. www.artomatic.org .

When is it? Artomatic is open through June 23, but volunteers are needed through mid-July. Shift times are noon to 5 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Artomatic is open Wednesday-Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from noon to 1 a.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

How do I get involved? E-mail volunteer@artomatic.org for more information.

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