Welcome to part 7 of our series, Meeting the Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts Event Representatives. Last post we met Leslie Borsuk. Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts programs would be nearly impossible to run without the help of volunteers. After receiving specialized training through the Associates volunteer office, studio arts event representatives are poised and ready to assist both teachers and students in a variety of important ways. In return for their commitment which often spans eight weeks, volunteers have the option of actively participating in the class where they have been assigned. In this special series of interviews, we offer our readers an insider’s perspective on our hands-on art programs and share just a little bit about these special people who volunteer with Smithsonian Associates on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy meeting them.
Interview with Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts Event Representative, Mark Raisher.
How long have you been a volunteer?
I’ve been a volunteer at the Smithsonian Associates for about 5 years.
Why did you decide to become a Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts volunteer?
I retired six years ago and I have been volunteering my time since then. I had previously volunteered at the Smithsonian and was interested in reconnecting with the Institution. There are many different activities within the scope of the Smithsonian that interest me but the Smithsonian Associate’s Studio Arts program was available at the time. Also, the Studio Arts program is different than the kinds of things I had normally done.
What is most rewarding for you about volunteering?
I used to work for the government in various administrative areas, but have always loved participating in a variety of different activities. This is particularly true of Studio Arts as I get to engage in activities that are out of my normal routine. Besides Studio Arts classes, I’ve also volunteered for lectures and other events. I’ve even continued doing some of these new activities after the class I was helping had finished. I enjoy providing support to the Smithsonian because it has benefitted me and my family for many decades.
What is your favorite Smithsonian Museum? Why?
I have a number of different interests so they all hold some appeal but those museums linked to the arts are more engaging. When it was open, I loved the Renwick. I used to spend my lunch hours in the Grand Salon. It just a certain draw for me; it was very intimate.
Do you have an arts background?
I have an art history background from college. I was more of an academic than a practitioner of the arts but I do enjoy the visual arts.
What classes have you participated in?
I’ve participated in mosaics, knitting, and jewelry making classes.
Do you have a favorite class?
I really enjoyed mosaics and instructor Alfredo Ratinoff. I enjoy working with him and have volunteered in mosaics class a couple of times; it was so unlike anything I’ve ever done and he helped me overcome my anxiety about the creative process. I’ve also really enjoyed the knitting classes, it’s something I had no exposure to prior to volunteering but I’ve continued to do on my own time after the classes have ended.
Favorite assignment/project from our classes?
I really enjoyed the mosaic projects; I made a number of outdoor creations that are still on display. It was fun working from designing it in the initial stages to creating it. I’ve also made some jewelry for my wife and I continue to make scarves for my daughter.
Any tips for other volunteers, teachers or students that they wouldn’t know from the course description?
The summaries on the website and in The Associate do cover the essence of what the classes are all about but they do not tell the entire story. You will go into these classes with a broad sense of what the class is going to provide but the blurbs are just a taste of what you’re likely to see. Go into the classes with enthusiasm and you’ll get an enriching experience. Some of the teachers are even willing to continue working and communicating with you after the class and semester are done.
You get to talk to the students. Have you noticed any common obstacles they have had to overcome to take the class (ex: unsure of their art skill, etc)?
Well just by signing up it means they’re trying to overcome whatever reservations they had. Sometimes there is an uncertainty of whether they’ll be able to do what’s expected of them in the classes. Luckily, all the instructors are welcoming, patient, accommodating and creative and will help the students overcome their fears. By the end of the term, most people with inhibitions about their own skill feel just as comfortable with their skills as people who have been doing it for a while. Also, just a practical suggestion, most evening classes have logistics problems because of DC traffic, parking or the metro so plan ahead accordingly.
If you could design a class, what would it be?
I’d like to see more knitting, crochet, and fiber arts classes as well as some more advanced classes. Also, I’d like some more day-long classes to work on different fiber arts projects, not just knitting.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
All of my time here has been wonderful and the support I have gotten from the staff has been wonderful. I’ve had a great time! It’s been a very positive experience for me. Students really enjoy supportive teachers AND volunteers.
If you’d like to consider becoming a Studio Arts Representative like Mark, contact Jenna Jones, CVA at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-633-8596.