Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
While there was much to enjoy about this conference, I found that there was also much that was not so great.
The first thing that was not so great? The Digital Student Show. I walked in a couple minutes late, so I missed the opening statements, and not being a student myself this year, I didn't apply. It wasn't until about half way through that I realized that the coordinators had deviated from the traditional format. I got the low down from some students and educators after the fact, and the more I heard, the more upset I became.
First off, the student show wasn't jurried. It was up to each individual program to submit a presentation of work, and then all works were to be included in the Digital Show. It was up to individual program faculty to jury their own students work, but they were never given a set limit of images they could submit. This lead to the coordinators receiving more than 800 images, which of course then had to be edited. Well. What the hell did you think was going to happen? Seriously? Everyone wants to be in the student show and every educator wants their students to be in the student show. The method behind the editing seemed a bit arbitrary to me too. Whole programs were cut ( a particular sore spot, since one was my alma mater), small obscure programs had 12-15 images while the top schools in the country had only 2 or 3. And I love the small obscure programs, I think it's great that they get exposure, but isn't it better to showcase 1 or 2 amazing pieces as opposed to 15 okay pieces? The thing went on forever too, all the work blending into one long string of mediocrity and repeated music (seriously, you couldn't even take the time to find 3 more songs for the soundtrack?). There were a few stand out pieces, but not many. Much of the work I found to be derivative, and I wonder with all the edits they made why were we still left looking at essentially the same ring from two different programs?
The purpose of the Digital Student Presentation is to showcase more quality work by students. I always felt that the Digital Show should be for those works which just missed the cut for the actual Student Show. I hate seeing duplicate works in both shows and this attitude of showing everything is even worse. For the participants, the Student Shows are a point of pride, and a great line on your resume. How did it get reduced to this? It's already horribly expensive for students to attend the conference, and we're steadily marginalizing the one thing that is uniquely theirs. They are the future of the field, trained by some of the top practitioners in the field. Shouldn't we be treating their work with more respect and lifting up those who deserve the recognition? It is my sincere hope that the student shows are shown more care and respect in future.
So after that debacle, I stayed for the panel discussion, something which I had eagerly looked forward too. And walked out of 45 minutes later, before we even reached the question and answer section. I thought the topic was great, but the presenters didn't do it justice. They seemed more invested in talking about themselves and their programs, than actually giving advise to one who may want to do something similar. They all talked for WAY too long about themselves, giving useless details, like the exact steps that couples take to make their own rings (seriously, if ever there was a group of people you didn't have to explain that to, this was it) and the number of solar panels on your roof. The presenters seemed like they had set up great little studios and programs but were not public speakers. Which is fine, not everyone in a public speaker. But if you aren't, then maybe you shouldn't do this sort of thing, or at least practice. I left bored to tears and terribly disappointed. But ice cream in with the canucks helped a lot in my recovery.
The last thing that was a bit disturbing was the topic choice for the Professional Development Seminar, which was packaging. Three hours on . . . packaging. Really? I was not the only one baffled by this programming choice, and many of the people I talked to didn't intend on going. I read the blurb in the program just to confirm, and lost even more interest. Packaging horror stories? I have enough of my own thanks, and so do all my friends. I wasn't too upset though, I don't think I've ever gone to the PDS (didn't they used to be on Wend. afternoons, where people had to make an effort to get to the venue early to attend? Why the schedule change?). I always feel slightly guilty skipping any of the conference programming, but sometimes it's nice to take a break from the freezing cold ballroom and sit and relax in the sun for a bit. Also, it gave me time to prep for the Trunk Show (read: go to the FedEx in the lobby and buy paper.) The couple of people I know that went, wound up leaving early.
No conference is perfect, and you take the good with the bad. I do feel the the attendee has a certain amount of responsibility to make sure they have a good time. But, having something to gripe about is part of the experience. It builds community.
Liz, I am really grateful for your criticism! It is necessary to hear what people think and what parts of the program "work" better than others.
I would like to respond re the PDS part of the program since I am actively involved in it:
Timing: The PDS was made an integral part of the conference a few years ago.The board felt that the development of professional practices is an important skill that everyone needs besides the development of their artistic career. Saturday mornings were chosen to enable local artists who work full-time to attend that part of the program. Personally, I would prefer a different time during the conference, but its not up to me to decide on this.
Topic: The PDS topic was packing/boxing and shipping. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen terribly wrapped, boxed and shipped items that ruined artwork partially or completely. The fault does not necessarily lie with the shipper, though they do contribute to the problem, more often the fault lies with the people on either end (sending and receiving) who are not knowledgeable about how to box work in a manner that prevents accidents in the first place.
We all have had horror stories with shippers, a lot of them are preventable if you take the time to learn about shipping options, tracking, cost and the all important insurance facet in all of this - which can lead to an artist being compensated for damage or loss - or not, depending on the decisions made.
A huge problem is international shipping which was also talked about extensively. I cannot even begin to recount the difficulties artists face when shipping internationally. Custom forms, fees, procedures, risk, legalities.... It is absolutely essential to be informed about this aspect, particularly because the conference is held in Toronto next year.
The PDS team consists of 3 people and we do our best to come up every year with timely and interesting topics. Many topics have already been discussed in prior years (marketing, branding, photography, niche marketing etc etc.) These topics are all very important and popular, but we cannot repeat them every year and instead need to offer new information. This year, we chose boxing and shipping nationally and internationally because it had not been covered before and this information will come in extremely handy next year when lots of us have to contemplate how to bring artwork across the border LEGALLY.
I don't want to be standing next to an artist at the border when the Canadian customs officer starts to ask questions and depending on the answers the artist will undergo major scrutiny... and then the work might not get into Canada or back into the US without some major custom fees due right then and there... now THAT's a real horror show! And just forget about bringing jewelry in for "retail purposes" without proper paperwork. Just forget it.
We did notice that there were not as many audience members as we would have wished. We considered the topic to be extremely important to all, otherwise we would not have done it. The attendees I spoke to afterwards told me that they found the information very valuable. I grant you that the topic appears somewhat "dry", but we are all adults and can make our own decisions based on information we need to know not the fun quotient. It is also not my job or style to "sex up" dry topics to make them more appealing. I absolutely refuse to do that. It is my job with the PDS team to put information together that is timely and useful for a majority of the field, not to provide entertainment. [That's what the Board meetings are for ;-) ]
I am quite sorry to hear that apparently many felt our topic wasn't for them this year. I guess that happens and cannot be avoided. However, those that came to the PDS definitely felt otherwise. They now have a much better understanding of what lies in wait for them next year. At the very least they have been warned.
Again, thanks for the critique. I hope others chime in as well.
"It is also not my job or style to "sex up" dry topics to make them more appealing. I absolutely refuse to do that. It is my job with the PDS team to put information together that is timely and useful for a majority of the field, not to provide entertainment."
I, for one, found the shipping presentation to be useful - very useful in fact. But that does not mitigate the rules for a good presentation. Part of planning and presenting ANYTHING is understanding the interplay of the venue, the subject, the needs of the audience an how to keep them engaged in the subject.
Part of the presenter's job is to make the presentation engaging, and yes, entertaining to some degree. Ignore that fact and you will loose your audience, particularly over a 3 hour period.
"Edutainment" is the business we are in when in conference mode. That does not mean you have to work in a juggling act during the last half of the presentation. It means look to other presentations and conferences to get an idea of what Best Practices are.
Organizing a conference and presentations on the scope of SNAG is a monumental task, and I am grateful and appreciative of everyone's efforts. In particular, the PDS has been nothing short of groundbreaking and prescient for our field. You are presenting information that is important and needed. We should not allow ourselves to think that because the information is important and needed that our audience will gladly endure anything to get it.
Point well taken and thanks for the compliment!!
Trust me, after having worked on this topic for a year, the 3 of us were VERY aware that the topic was "dry". We aimed to present everything as snappy as possible: different presenters, shorter presentations and interspersing as much 'lightheartedness' as we could possibly muster.
The topic is what it is though and there's only so much that can be said about it beforehand to make it seem more appealing. The three of us had intense discussions about how to present this to our audience and the opinions on how to do this were split in our team.
What I meant with the "sex up" comment: We don't want to deceive anyone by promising a glamorous show and then not delivering the va-va-voom everyone is expecting. We ARE talking about wrapping, boxing and shipping after all.
The PDS is very interested in and able to offer an engaging experience and I honestly think we did it again this year. It was just really much harder to get people in the door in the first place.
Always room to improve. Thanks for the comment !!
Its a difficult job and I applaud Harriete, Andy and you for you willingness to slog through this every year. Critique notwithstanding you are providing an invaluable service to the field, and you can all be proud of what you have accomplished.
Thanks, John!! Really kind, encouraging words to hear from someone who knows how to make things 'work.'
Let's not forget that this is all volunteer-driven work too. Anyone who wants to sign up for a job where you work with a team almost every day for a full year, discuss things until you are blue in the face, shoulder full responsibility for everything without getting paid a dime: Line up right here.
I am not complaining. I love my PDS team !! It's a joy and great privilege to work with Andy and Harriete. Hope they will let me work with them for a loooong time.
2nd Brigitte's comment.
In the meantime, I would love to hear suggestions for next year's program. How can the PDS provide information you need to know on a practical level to improve your future success as an artist and maker.
Putting together 3 hours of programming content is a herculean effort, but it starts with the nugget of an idea for program content and speakers.
I appreciate Liz expressing her concerns about the PDS and Brigitte Martin's response. Since I have been working on the Professional Development Seminar for many years now perhaps it would be helpful to review the history of this program and offer information about shipping. It was a fabulous topic despite the perception that it would be dry. (How ironic since damaged work is usually accompanied by tears.)
As Brigitte said, the PDS is now part of the official conference. With the exception of this year, our audience has steadily grown. The past two years PowerPoints have been posted on line to share with a larger audience with over 35,000 views. If that isn't an endorsement for the need and desire for this information, I don't know what is.
INFORMATION NOW AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE FROM THE PDS
IF you want to view the previous two years of PDS PowerPoints and the Handouts, they are available online for free courtesy of SNAG and dedicated volunteers. Handouts and articles from the past nine years are also available.
Anyone who has ever sponsored a show can tell horror stories about shipping. Ask French Thompson who was in charge of the student show this year in Phoenix. This information from the PDS is sorely needed.
Our objective was to help and teach artists and makers how to protect their work more effectively. We believed in this topic with so much enthusiasm, we didn't realize that people would consider this dry or boring. Damage during shipping can be avoided by better packing. We offered information for shipping jewelry to large sculpture. Shipping is relatively easy compared to international so we added the international shipping information the best we could.
The PDF handout by Loring Taoka for shipping three different size boxes with different insurance values is what I would consider a MUST PRINT for everyone to save dollars! Shipping is getting so expensive.
The PowerPoint tutorial for creating a Custom Shipping Box for one of a kind work is online. It also has a matching PDF CUSTOM SHIPPING BOX- a step-by-step tutorial for preparing a custom made shipping. Give it time to download. This is a large file with images. Use this as a guide while preparing your custom box.
The other lectures about shipping will be available soon. They are not boring! Speakers include Leila Hamdan, artist and museum registrar,; Kim Cridler, about shipping large scale sculpture; Loring Taoka reviewing his shipping comparison handout; and Tina Pint from Jeweler's Mutual. I am still working on the audio and PowerPoint editing.
Despite the poor attendance this information will be an amazing resource for years to come. Liz, I sincerely hope your boxes offer professional level protection for your work since you didn't need this information. If I had only known that you were an expert shipper, we could have asked you to speak and offer your words of advice.
If anyone would like to make a suggestion for future PDS programs please tell Brigitte Martin, Andy Cooperman or myself, Harriete Estel Berman. We decide the programming for Toronto in the next three months
AN ABRIDGED list of previous PDS topics will be posted below for your information. (If anyone would like the complete list with speakers, just ask. It is available for posting or private email.)
PDS Phoenix 2012
The Ins & Outs of Shipping
PDS Seattle 2011
Photography In Flux
PDS Houston 2010
Bruce Baker Selling strategies
Not Just Another Pricing Lecture:
PDS Philadelphia 2009
Revolutionary - Maximizing the Online Revolution: Websites and Beyond
Improving Website Performance & Design
The Evolving Role of the Gallery in a Virtual World of Commerce
PDS Savannah 2008
CROSSCURRENTS: Navigating Toward New Markets
PDS Memphis 2007
Signature style, material, and methods: the path to success
Craig Nutt and Dave Kotary: The Insurance Show, CERF
PDS Chicago 2006
Using Your Skills to Pay the Bills
How to be a working, not starving artist in the marketplace
Bound to Impress: Using 2.0 Publishing to make your own catalog.
PDS 2005 Cleveland, OH "Intersection"
Mock Jury showing five images
Marketing by the Williamsons
PDS city 2004 St. Petersburg, FL "In Pursuit of Passion"
PDS San Francisco 2003
Boris Bally – Momentum and Maintaining a Career in Metalsmithing.
Andy Cooperman – Brick by Brick: A Balanced Career Aprroach
Don Friedlich – Studio Multiples
Alan Revere – Benchwork in the Jewerly Industry
Forgot to add:
Every Conference has good and bad lectures and logistics. This year one of the highlights for me was the keynote lecture by Garth Clark followed the next day by "A Smaller Conference Experience" - Lunch Discussion.
The podcast of Garth Clark's keynote lecture is available online. If you are not familiar with all the artists, designers and makers mentioned by Garth Clark, ASK Harriete has a post with links to images and/or web sites of the examples mentioned. Find this recent post with the link to the podcast on ASK Harriete. This is well worth an hour of time.
Whether you agree or disagree it really makes you think!
Liz, I sincerely appreciate your honest perspective on those components of the 2012 conference, and your specificity helps me and us immensely. I assure you we are listening to everyone's feedback and will make improvements each year.
Brigitte, placing the PDS in that Saturday time slot came directly from the PDS Committee. If it's time to revisit it, let's have that conversation.
For anyone who wants to hear Garth Clark's talk, it's on SNAG's website, www.snagmetalsmith.org. With more to come. Also take a look at the communal slideshow on our website. If you have images to share, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While I agree with you on the issue of the student show (my program being another victim), I have to say that as an unexperienced conference attendee (this was my second one) I was positively surprised by the wealth of information in this years' PDS. I thought the speakers were engaging and the topic was certainly covered in a very thorough way. Maybe attendance would have been improved by a more snappy title highlighting the relevance of the various issues to everyone in the field. Also, I really appreciate the amount of work, effort, thought and enthusiasm that is put into preparing for these presentations. Even for that alone I find it is worth checking out every part of programming there is, and like with this year's PDS you may just find yourself picking up lots of useful pieces of information.
I am totally ready to take on the Student Digital Presentation.