Volunteers from far & near make Black Swamp Arts Festival possible

Ryan O'Neil helps Katie Jenkins make a tie-dye shirt.


BG Independent News

Driving seven hours to attend the Black Swamp Arts festival wasn’t enough for Mira Gratrix.

Mira Gratrix

Gratrix has been making the trek from her home in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario almost every year since 1995, and nine years ago she decided enjoying the festival wasn’t enough.

“I just love being a part of it,” Gratrix said. “It makes me feel closer to the festival. I want to help.”

So this weekend Gratrix was back in Bowling Green selling tickets, checking in other volunteers as they showed up for their shifts, and conducting a survey of festival goers. In the past, she’s worked back stage, served as a gate monitor, served beer, and did artist hospitality.

She did miss one year when she broke her leg, but she was back the next helping out in a wheel chair.

Having participated in other festivals she knows how difficult it is to get volunteers. “It’s always a core group.”

That’s true as well in Bowling Green, said Todd Ahrens, who chairs the committee of volunteers that meets year-round to stage the event. The festival needs about 1,000 people to keep the event running smoothly over the weekend.

From left, Jackie Baer, Madeline Brandt, and KayKay Pou, all of the Dance Marathon steering committee, collect trash at the Black Swamp Arts Festival.

“Our challenge always remains that we’re an all-volunteer-run organization. We rely heavily on volunteers. The community always rises to the occasion and comes through. This year was no exception.”

Those volunteers include familiar faces. Geoff Howes has performed several years with the Grande Royale Ukulelists of the Black Swamp. This year he was doing his part collecting trash, certainly one of the least glamorous jobs.

Also helping with trash and recycling were the members of the Dance Marathon Steering Committee.

They were part of large contingent of BGSU students who helped out. They included student athletes, members of ECCO (Educators in Context & Community) and other groups.

Ryan O’Neil, an architecture student from Columbus, was busy Saturday helping kids tie-dye t-shirts, one of the festival’s signature activities.

“I like helping the local community,” he said. “I do it as much as I can.”

He said he enjoyed the music and the “safe environment of the festival.”

Compared to the Ohio State Fair, he said “this is the right size.”

Gratrix first came to Bowling Green in 1994 to do a year of graduate studies at Bowling Green State University. She lived on Clough Street with her two daughters who attended Crim Elementary.

The festival was in its second year. She attended and fell in love with it.

She met her friend Tamara O’Brien at that time and stays with her when she visits Bowling Green.

Gratrix’s passion for the festival has only grown over the years.

She wonders how the festival is able to attract the top performers it does. “The festival has really opened my ears up to music” she said. “I’d never heard of zydeco.”

Every year she returns home to the Georgian Bay with a new collection of recordings by festival performers.

But it’s more than the stars that make the event shine for her. The festival really brings out what makes the town great. “I’ve never met a disgruntled person.”

It attracts a far more diverse group of people than other festivals, she said. Those dancing to the music range from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds.

When she returns north to her job as a forensic social worker, she spreads the word about the Black Swamp.

“I tell friends and family, you have to experience this.”