voluntary arts ireland

Friday, 4 November 2011

A Voluntary Night at the Opera

Left to Right David McLoughlin CEO Wexford Festival Opera, Peter Scallan Chair Wexford Festival Opera, Connor Brennan Director of Broker Distribution Zurich, David Agler Artistic Director Wexford Festival Opera,Elizabeth Foley Wexford Festival Opera/Zurich Volunteers Award Recipient 2011, David Maguire Volunteers Representative Wexford Festival Trust Board of Directors,Kevin Murphy Chief Officer Voluntary Arts Ireland

My first visit to Wexford Opera on Thursday 3rd November was to attend the award ceremony of the inaugural Wexford Festival Opera Volunteer of the Year Award sponsored by Zurich. Voluntary Arts Ireland had supported the award and sat on the awarding panel.

I had heard about Wexford’s volunteers and how they really get behind the festival and help create a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere – but I had no idea how embedded in the culture of the festival they were until I went there.

Chairman of Wexford Festival Trust, Peter Scallan said, "Wexford Festival Opera was born of the foresight and enthusiasm of a small local voluntary group and is now a renowned international event.   The volunteer spirit has been key to our success and we are committed to developing this essential core ethos into the future.”

What is striking is that this was self-evident. There was no discernible distinction between professional staff and voluntary staff – they were all informed, enthusiastic and possessed a rare sense of pride in and belonging to the festival.

The inspirational Elizabeth Foley, on whom the inaugural award was bestowed, is a perfect example. Described as one of the hidden heroes of Wexford Festival Opera Elizabeth has been a volunteer at the Theatre Royal and subsequently the Opera House since she was a little girl, then assisting her mother.  In turn she has involved her daughters and indeed her grandchildren, two of whom I met on the night, helping with the tea and biscuits in the Green Room. 

Elizabeth shared some thoughts on her experience with Wexford Festival Opera in this brief video vox pop.

The connection to Wexford Festival Opera runs wide and deep through the citizens of Wexford. Not only have families across generations been supporting it but in many cases this has included long gaps away as people moved from the area for work or study only to return, sometimes decades later, to pick up where they had left off.

This is real, long-term community development and who would have thought that Opera could help achieve this – not its traditional moniker. Perhaps it just goes to show that the arts are inherently open activities – that work best when people from across our communities participate in them, nurture them and make them a part of their everyday life.

And what of the opera performance itself, La Cour de Célimène – what use of all this civic action if the art is no good, I hear you say. Well it was tremendous – engaging, witty and a visual and aural feast. All built on volunteer effort.....congratulations Elizabeth and congratulations Wexford Festival Opera.