With three degrees in flute performance, Abby McKee was certain that whatever career path she pursued, it needed to keep her active in the artistic community she loves.
After finishing an Artist Diploma at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she visited the Craigslist job section looking to arts administration as a way to stay involved in the arts, while also paying the bills.
"I typed in 'arts.' The first job that popped up was a position with Stern Grove Festival. Serendipity!" she recalls.
Founded in 1938, Stern Grove Festival is the oldest admission-free arts festival in the United States. Every Sunday during the summer, family and friends gather in the San Francisco park to relax and enjoy performances from some of the world's greatest artists.
A veteran performer herself, Abby recalls being very aware of audiences tuning out halfway through a performance. But as the education and outreach manager for Stern Grove, she works to connect people with the performing arts in new and meaningful ways.
"For many people, Stern Grove is the first place that they experience live performances," says Abby. "I love finding 'footholds' for people, giving them a way to relate to an art form."
The festival relies heavily on volunteers for performances. Concerts can attract up to 10,000 patrons each Sunday, and volunteers are needed to direct, assist, and organize.
With a diverse roster of performers each year, from ballet to rhythm and blues, it's "not surprising," says Jessica Zeidman, the volunteer coordinator, "that the organization has a very loyal, dedicated group of core volunteers who have been at the Grove for over twenty years."
Yet this year, the festival faces a unique challenge: volunteer fatigue. "After 2008's election cycle and the masses of volunteers that came out, volunteers are a bit tired," says Jessica.
Luckily, the festival has been able to find the help it needs by keeping its VolunteerMatch account updated. "Every day, I receive at least one 'match' from someone expressing interest in volunteering with us," Jessica says.
The 2009 season shows promise, with an opening concert by Roberta Flack, a final performance from the San Francisco Opera, and a gamut of talented acts scheduled in between.
But apart from the magnificence of the performers, for Abby McKee, even more magic occurs in the audience: "Watching an adult learn how to samba before a Brazilian band, or a toddler play a drum before an African show always leaves me feeling inspired."
In addition to providing the community with world-class performances, Stern Grove Festival is committed to arts education. Each performance offers hands-on workshops for families -- from instrument-making to bhangra lessons -- so that everyone can find a way to connect with the arts in a fun and memorable way.
"I believe that the arts are for everyone," says Abby, "and I love seeing that belief come to fruition."