Several months ago I had the pleasure of being asked to speak on a panel of local artists at the Studio Art Quilt Associates annual conference which was held two weeks ago in Alexandria, VA. The invitation was just the push I needed to register for the whole conference. This was my first one so I had no idea what to expect, but I am very glad I attended.
I wasn’t able to be there for the Thursday night check in and activities. There were meetings for the regional reps and for the Juried Artist Members (formerly PAMs), which I think is a great idea since these two groups have specific issues that affect only them and they can use each other for networking and resources. I spoke to a couple of regional reps who attended and I think they got a lot out of the experience. One mentioned that the meeting made her feel more confident about what she was or was planning on doing for the region. Not being in either group, I couldn’t have gone to those meetings, but I would have loved to go to the artists speed dating session open to all which seems like a fun ice breaker and chance to network.
Friday was the main event. It was great to see so many local members — those whom I have met before at our parlor meetings and a few new-to-me faces. With sessions like photographing your artwork, navigating the gallery scene, promoting yourself, and growing your business, it all seemed geared towards members who are ready to sell work at or near a professional level. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though — I suspect that those who would invest in a conference would be at this place in their journey. I certainly am, and I came away with lots of good info. I attended the photography lecture which was very helpful, and the promote your work without apologizing which was OK. Lesley Riley gave a lecture on being your own art coach, which might have been good for someone looking for some direction in deciding where to go next with their work (maybe I would have gotten more out of that than the no apologies session). There was also a digital designing session that would probably appeal to people not as interested in the how to be a professional artist stuff but looking for inspiration. Our local artist panel went well. Lots of people came up to me later and said they enjoyed it. Cindy Grisdela did a good job getting four people whose art is very different. My new artist crush is Jinny Smith. Since the Textile Museum is nearby but currently closed as they are moving to new digs, the director brought a slideshow of some of her favorites in the collection. Lots of costumes and historical ethnic stuff from around the world. Very nice.
Saturday I attended a lecture on navigating the gallery scene which I really got a lot out of. Curator Trudy Van Dyke spoke, and not only is she very knowledgable and instrumental in Fiber Art Now, but she is very approachable and helpful. Lots of people were handing her business cards after she spoke so she said she’d just email us all back and we could continue our individual conversations from there. I thought that was a great way to move quickly through the crowd and still be able to give thought and time to each person’s request. I look forward to more contact with her.
The other highlight for me was hearing several students from Maryland Institute College of Art speak so enthusiastically about their work (which is inspiringly “out there” compared to what most of us are doing!). Then we took a field trip to see the Radical Elements show which went well. On the bus, I caught up with Nanette from NC who is doing fantastic legwork on making my Army Wife show happen at her local art center and growing it into an exciting event. I only wish I could have seen our Tarnish show as well, but it was too far away to add to our bus trip and there really wasn’t enough time for a separate field trip.
It was great to see so many faces I knew. Lots from the DC/MD/WV group that I join in on when I can. I said hi to everyone I saw and spent some time with the lovely Diane Doran. I ended up hanging out mostly with the NC people I had met when I’ve gone to their area for combined SAQA and PAQA-South events (Nanette Zeller, Eileen Williams, and Christine Hager-Braun). Also, my VA pal Lorie McCown was there so were were pretty much each other’s sidekick the whole time. It was kinda fun being the one who could introduce people from one group to people in another group.
I missed Sunday’s retrospective with Yvonne Porcella because I really needed to get home, but I did meet her (and Iris from MistyFuse) via Lisa Ellis last night. I wore my aqua cowboy boots on Friday and so everyone not only noticed me, but remembered me. That was a good move — wearing something memorable, so people will have at least half a clue who I am if I ever wish to contact them again.
So, in conclusion, a good time. I’m not sure I’d be able to justify spending the money to fly to a conference, but if there’s one that’s reasonable easy to get to I’d definitely go. The networking possibilities alone are worthwhile. Next year’s is to be in Portland, OR, so I’m not sure if that one will fit into our plans, but we’ll see…