By Jody Steinberg

You still have a chance to volunteer for the Brookhaven Arts Festival Oct. 17 and 18 and earn the coveted festival volunteer T-shirt.

The annual fest, sponsored by the Brookhaven Arts Alliance, is a highlight of the Brookhaven community.

Festival attendance continues to grow. About 20,000 visitors and 100 artists participated in 2008, and similar crowds are expected this year. Visitors can enjoy the works of 130 professional artist vendors, live music, children’s activities, great local food and beverages and an after-hours street party.

The BAA and Brookhaven Community Connection will host booths, and works from local artists at Ashford Park and Cross Keys will also be on display.

The festival is completely volunteer-run, and shifts are always available. Suggested shifts are: Saturday: 7:00 – 10:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and 2:00 – 6:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. and 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Volunteers are encouraged to take a three- or four-hour shift, but will be welcomed for two-hour shifts as well.

Volunteer jobs include

— Festival Hospitality: Staff Festival booth to sell festival memorabilia and direct visitors;

— Artists’ Hospitality: Deliver water and food to artists and relieve them for short breaks;

— Children’s Interactive Market: Must love kids and messy paint;

— Set-up and Strike: Help set and break down BAA tents and booths (artists do their own); and

— Artists’ Load-In and Load-Out: Direct artists to booth spaces and parking.

Early risers are especially in demand on Saturday to join regular volunteer John Barkus, who helps artists unload and set up before the festival opens. Set-up and break-down sounds like a tough job, says Barkus, but usually it’s more traffic management than actual labor.

“Most artists have done a lot of festivals, and they much know what they are doing,” he says. “They just need to be pointed in the right direction and they go to it.”

Volunteer Sophia Hinley has spent four years encouraging child visitors to discover their inner artists. “The kids really have a great time, they get excited about painting the canvasses,” she says. “We get a lot of repeat volunteers, because they love the interaction with the kids and they enjoy painting, too.”

Young artists are often encouraged to “sell” their paintings back to the festival. The Arts Alliance assembles a number of small canvasses into one community mural, then auction it off at the Taste of Brookhaven.

This year Barkus, who is Vice President of Programs and Events of the newly-formed Brookhaven Community Connection, will help staff the BCC booth with information about Brookhaven and BCC membership. The BCC formed earlier this year to fill an important void in the community, after an article in the Brookhaven Reporter quoted BAA Executive Director Gretchen Roberts, who said that Brookhaven needed an umbrella organization to bring businesses and residents together to promote the community and make it a better place to live and work.

Even if you cannot volunteer, Roberts encourages all residents to attend on of the few large public events that is all about Brookhaven. Admission is free. All proceeds from sales of T-shirts and other sources benefit the Brookhaven Arts Alliance.