A question from an artist and reader,
"While reading the ACC Conference lecture reviews, I was wondering how the conference is affecting you as an artist?"
Good question! I'll bet other people are wondering too! Similar questions arose from a few other readers wondering if it was worth the expense (conference fee, airfare, hotel) to go. [I don't include food because most of the time I don't eat at restaurants but instead find a grocery store for fruit and yogurt. A latte is my conference treat!]
The answer is a considered "yes, yes, yes." These conferences are an investment in my professional development and definitely worth attending (as long as it isn't adding debt to the credit card). Beyond the expenses, I don't give up time in my studio lightly. I also miss my exercise classes and come home to a mountain of mail and "things to do" just like everyone else. This always delays my return to the studio for more days.
WHAT DO I GET OUT OF A CONFERENCE?
Three things mostly, meeting new people, listening to thought-provoking lectures, and seeing work that surprises and inspires. While none of these things are automatic or guaranteed to happen, it is dropping myself into the unexpected and being open to new ideas. To borrow the words from the TED Conference web site: "Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole." (If you aren't familiar with the TED Conference lectures, I recommend them highly.)
Meeting new people is the most refreshing and positive aspect of every conference. Even though I am a little fearful of or somewhat dislike having people pierce my personal space bubble, I force myself to make an effort to sit next to a stranger.... or ask someone to sit next to me at lunch that I barely know, or talk to a new person on the bus or at the show. I have to repeat this gutsy effort over and over. However, even one such meeting may make the entire conference worthwhile. You never know if this person is looking for just your kind of work, planning a show, or following a similar path.
Pattern Pillow #2 © 2004
copper, oil paint
18" x 18" x 5"
Artist: Megan Auman
For example, a couple of years ago, Megan Auman approached me requesting that she speak about Web 2.0 for the Professional Development Seminar (Savannah FLYER 2008) at a SNAG Conference. I was mystified about why I or any other artist should even consider participating in 2.0 sites like Facebook or Etsy (or a blog for that matter) when I already had a website. Well, we (Don Friedlich, Andy Cooperman, and I) listened to her ideas and decided to include her program about 2.0 for the PDS. After the SNAG Conference (March 2008), I came right home to join Etsy, Flickr, Facebook and to start my blog all in about two weeks! She and others opened my eyes about all that was happening, will be happening, and could be happening on the Internet.
Natalie "Alabama" Chanin
Speaking during the ACC Conference
Exposure to new information is my second reason to go to conferences. Lectures are always a gamble. Much of a lecture may be the "same old, same old", but if you listen, you will likely realize after six months or a year that a kernel or nugget might inspire a new way of thinking. At a SNAG Conference organized by Gary Griffin many years ago, he included a lecture on "tin men." This lecture opened up a whole new world of ideas for me that has inspired 21 years of work. All from that one lecture.
The recent 2009 American Craft Council Conference was intense and provided a broad spectrum of information. I learned from speakers I'd never known before, about books they have written, references to movies, blog sites, and tons of other resources. It might take me months or a year to follow through, buy the books or get them from my local library. Since Heath Ceramics is not all that far away from where I live, it is definitely on my "to-do" list. Rob Walker and I met in person for the first time after over a year of correspondence. It only intensified my interest in his writing both in the New York Times Magazine and his blog.
Harriete working in the studio
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander
How this will all blend into my work is another story. My work is very labor-intensive. It will take at least a year or more to finish my current projects, and another year or more to work on upcoming planned projects. So, two years from now, maybe something from the Conference will inspire new work. Who knows, maybe a person that I met might want to show my work. All of these things are like a slow cooking stew, you need to add the right spices and let it simmer.
The third reason that I go to Conferences, seeing new work, doesn't happen the same way every time. At the SNAG Conferences, there are multiple exhibitions specifically for the conference. Many times going to a Conference is the first time I visit a city and realize that I want to go back as a family vacation to explore.
So as you can see, going to conferences (no more than once or twice a year to stay within my budget), whether local or far away, is one very effective way to expand my thinking, move out of my treasured daily routine, and discover surprises. The uncertainties always seem a bit intimidating, but my reflection after every conference has been rewarding and sometimes life-changing.
The 2010 SNAG Conference is coming!
The upcoming SNAG Conference is already accepting registration. During the Conference, I will be organizing a way to make the Conference a smaller place with more ways to meet people. Start saving your money and plan to go to a Conference in 2010.
Volunteer to help me with the "meet and greet" conversations. Get to know some new people. Volunteer, I could really use your help. Listen to the unexpected and have an experience that enriches you for an entire year. I will be doing the Portfolio Reviews. Sign up early for a free Portfolio Review with gallery representatives, curators, and successful artists in the metals field.
I am also organizing the Professional Development Seminar with Andy Cooperman and Don Friedlich. The Professional Development Seminar in Houston, Texas, is planning three hours of concrete information from 9:00 am-12:00 pm on Friday, March 12, that will change the way you approach your work and the way you do business. At 9:00 am, Bruce Baker will present ‘The Art of Selling’, and at 11:00 am he will shift to ‘Not Just Another Pricing Lecture: A Dialogue about Pricing Your Work.’ We will continue the conversation during lunch from 12:00-1:30. Bring your lunch so you don't miss a moment. Learn strategies for success.
Harriete Estel Berman
This post was updated on January 5, 2022.