A chat with three volunteers of the past editions of Cortona On the Move festival, who tell us what it means to build a festival, their happiest memories and the reasons to go back.
Hey girls! How are you all doing? What’s new?
Alice: I graduated! Now I’m in my first year of an MA in development and international cooperation. Apart from that, it’s all as usual, I volunteer for some local charities and I work as a waitress.
Marica: I’m also working at a bar at the moment, while continuing my studies at Brescia art academy.
Laura: As for me, I’m in Turin as usual. I’m working for Paratissima, a contemporary art fair, I do their communication and I curate their photography section.
We’re happy to hear it’s all good with you! We’re here to ask you some questions about volunteering at COTM, something you have all done. Alice, you’ve been volunteering at COTM for ages.
Alice: Yep, I’ve taken part since its first edition, back when I was 16. My father knows Carlo Roberti, the festival’s first artistic director and promoter of Toscana Photographic Workshop. They were looking for volunteers to work on the festival’s first edition and I jumped on board.
Laura, Marica, what about you girls? How did you become aware of this volunteering opportunity?
Laura: Because of Antonio Carloni, the festival director. He was my tutor at a course for contemporary art curators.
Marica: I found out because of my studies too. Marco Ceccaroni – a professor of mine – told us students about the festival and suggested we took part.
© Erdiola Mustafaj
It was the first time at COTM for both of you. What were you expecting?
Laura: I helped out at PhEST (Monopoli’s photography festival) before so I already knew what it was going to be about. I just wanted to push myself more: get busy, work hard, experience that sort of pressure and stress that comes with setting up a festival.
It seems like quite a tough experience!
Laura: But it’s totally worth it! I want to become a curator, so Cortona was a true learning experience to me, it taught me so many things. The members of staff are open to share what they know, something quite uncommon and very helpful for those willing to learn. Having the chance to see how Arianna Rinaldo works was something totally unique, how she pairs exhibition with location, her dispositions…
Marica: I understand what you mean, I was totally impressed by how carefully the exhibitions are planned and created. Now when I visit an exhibition I am extremely aware of all the details.
Before taking part I hoped to learn something new, especially on exhibition set-ups, as I had never done that before. Indeed I learned about that aspect, but I got even more: the experience has helped me work on my personal projects, each exhibition was thought provoking and I became aware of authors I did not know about, or I discovered new things. Dealing with so many photographs gives you a good vibe. Moreover, you can share your thoughts with people with your same passion.
Alice: It’s quite an intense experience, it gives you a lot, even if you have nothing to do with photography on a professional level. Me, for example, I don’t do photography. I was 16 when I started, I wanted to do a grown-up experience, I wanted to delve into something new.
Did you find out what you were looking for?
Alice: Absolutely! It was a whole new world to me. It was a powerful experience, when I went back home the festival was my only topic of conversation! Also, it was my first proper work experience. Each year I go back and my responsibilities increase because people count on me. It’s an experience that has given me a different outlook on things and it has made me realize there are things which are worth working hard for. I go back year after year because there is something there, and there are plenty people to share it with.
© Erdiola Mustafaj
È It’s true, Cortona is about sharing: we are together 24/24, 7/7 and we end up bonding, with arguments and discussions too. Did you make friends? Are you in touch?
Marica: Sure! I’ve got fond memories of the people I worked with. The same can be said for the staff and the guests. It’s really super to get to know the photographers, drink a glass of wine and dance with them. You realize they’re normal people, as everybody else.
Alice: True, I am impressed by the strong relationships among volunteers, staff, photographers and the press, we share a lot, and photographers tend to be humble people who like mingling with us. Another lovely thing is seeing the results of your team work. It’s great to see the festival coming to life, it’s like it’s everybody’s child! Last but not least, the festival tackles very important issues and themes.
Laura: To me, it was a great work experience, but the relationships I built are what I treasure the most. I bonded with people I think highly of, I am still in touch with them and we often meet up. It was unexpected and beautiful, I miss that positive mood!
What’s your dearest memory of the festival?
Laura: I spent a month and a half in Cortona and I’ve got plenty good memories and anecdotes I share with the rest of the staff. It still amuses me to remember when we would go shopping together, we would never agree on anything apart from buying cheap goods.
Marica: What about the Piazza Signorelli aperitivi at the end of a long work day? They were jolly moments, we would relax and bond. We would be exhausted but…
Alice: Exhausted but satisfied! I remember my first year in Cortona: after a month of hard work, we finally managed to unplug all together by going a party in a villa after the festival inauguration.
What about work? What’s your favourite task?
Alice: Framing pictures for sure!
Marica: Me too, framing pictures. It allows you to touch fragments of incredibile stories.
Alice: And it’s amazing to work in such a charming place as the Girifalco Fortress.
Laura: In my opinion, the best task is to give that final touch before the inauguration, when you check all the details, you make sure that the photos are leveled etc. In that moment you realise what you’ve actually helped make in the previous weeks, you see everything finally taking shape.
What was your favourite exhibition at COTM ever?
Alice: Alex Majoli, at the festival’s first edition. The exhibition was in San Antonio church, the photographs wonderfully contrasted with the location, that feeling has stayed with me.
Marica: I really liked Sandra Mehl’s work. But my favourite is Donna Ferrato, whom I’ve been following for years, I loved her retrospective last year.
Laura: I’m obsessed with Scandinavian photography so I loved “Slash&Burn” by Terje Abusdal. I loved the set up and the aesthetics of the project.
Who would you recommend volunteering to?
Laura: Obviously it’s good for those wanting to work in photography, but not just that, it’s a great experience overall if you want to meet people and to be part of something bigger and amazing. Recently I recommended it to my cousin, she studied scenography and she’d like to practice.
Marica: I recommended it to my classmates. I shared my experience, I told them how useful and fun it was.
Alice: I recommend it to everybody all the time! Cortona On The Move is good for anybody, you feel useful even though you are not a photography person or you don’t have a specific skill set. I’d like my brother to go this year: he always gives his best, I’m sure he could be very useful and he could learn a lot.
Thanks girls! Will we see you this year?
Laura: Sadly I won’t be there because of work, but I would have loved to come! I’ll miss that satisfaction you feel when you see the outcome of the hard work of your team.
Alice: I came back 7 times for that very same feeling! Sometimes university, work and everyday life are difficult to juggle but somehow I always find a way to go back, at least for few days. I do it because it gives me a lot.
Marica: I’ll be there! I’m coming back to spend time with my people. I’m very curious to see this year’s exhibitions. And I miss Cortona, a magic place where I left a piece of my heart.