Last year around this time, I heard a LOT of people asking, often incredulously, “Why Milwaukee????” By only a few days into the conference, attendees realized that there were more reasons for why Milwaukee was an AMAZING location for our 48th annual conference than there are inches of snow there in the winter. Although this year’s choice of Providence, RI isn’t garnering quite as much confusion & head-scratching, I still hear a fair number of questions about why it was chosen, and moreover, just the general question of “How does the NCECA board and staff select ANY city“, or the related question, “What can I do to get NCECA to pick MY city?“
These are both great questions! The second question is easier to answer than the first, so I’ll start there. On NCECA.net, under the conference menu, you’ll find “future conference” at the bottom of that list. Mouse over that, and you will find a bit of information on Host City Proposals. That’s the first step toward getting your city on the NCECA radar.
So then what happens? How does NCECA decide?
For each city proposal, the President-Elect works with our Conference Manager, Dori Nielsen, to review the objective requirements necessary to the physical needs of our conference. The most crucial items on the checklist are maximum capacity of area hotels, size and configuration of the convention center, and possible venues to host the NCECA shows.
If those requirements are met, the next few on the list are slightly more negotiable. These are factors including available dates, and room cost for attendees. Often the cost of the convention center also plays a major role in this phase. Sometimes, a city’s convention & visitors bureau is so anxious for NCECA to select their city, that the convention center will be rent-free, or the hotels may provide us rebates if we fill a certain percent of their room block, in other cases, the food services used for the conference may offset rental costs and so on…almost every city has a different method for this, and it makes my head spin keeping up with it. Thank goodness we have Dori.
In this phase we also look at something called drayage. You see, all those wonderful exhibitors you find in the resource hall pay a LOT of money to come to NCECA. In addition to the cost of shipping their products to the conference, they have to pay a fee to the convention center just to get their products off the back of the shipping truck and 50 to 100 feet into the center to where their booth is located. I hope you’re sitting down, because all those exhibitors are paying about 85¢ per pound, just for the drayage service. Several years ago, when the conference was in Philadelphia, that number went up to nearly $1.50 a pound. As much as we would LOVE to go to New York, LA or Chicago, those are all cities that would cost over $2/# for drayage. (Are you thinking about all the companies with the heavy kilns, pugmills, and other stuff like I am?)
At that point, the President-Elect brings forward several of the cities that are up for consideration at the spring board meeting, where the 17 of us will discuss & debate each city’s other merits such as geographic location (in comparison or contrast to the previous 2-3 sites AND in terms of climate), galleries, arts centers and other hubs of ceramic activity in the vicinity, potential on-site liaisons, city support, even things like restaurants and other activities within walking distance of the convention center and hotels. This debate usually takes up at least an hour (sometime more) of our board meeting. At the end of that time we attempt to rank the top 3 or perhaps 4 cities for Conference Manager Dori and Executive director, Josh, to visit in person.
At the fall board meeting, Dori usually has an amazing presentation full of facts, figures and pretty pictures. (Interesting side note, filed under the category of “things I’ve learned from Dori”: When you are selecting a hotel, the more pillows there are on the bed in the picture, the nicer the hotel. And while it’s not a REAL factor we consider, it is fun to identify that X hotel is a 5 pillow-er, while Y hotel is a 6-er!) Then, more debating ensues, and at this point, we do get very granular, weighing each and every benefit and detractor against one another. I’ve seen cities that would be BEAUTIFUL for our conference, but we had to say no because the hotel costs were $220 or more a night, or the airline costs were extremely high and/or limited, or the distance from a major airport was too great (means high transportation costs to the hotel/convention center) lack of galleries can be a killer too. On the other hand, the support of the city and its arts community is a HUGE check in the plus column. As an example, when we were considering sites for our 50th anniversary, the folks in the Kansas City area were amazing. The board received a three ring binder…(and not a small one) FULL of letters of support from probably 50 people or more, ranging from city officials to museum staff, arts center directors, university professors, development strategists, publicists and more.
We also plan the sites of future conferences about 5 years out. We are currently in negotiation with the cities for the 2018 and 2019 conferences and are considering sites for 2020. OK, OK, I know bringing THAT up means I’ve reminded you of the other question you want to ask…“Where’s the conference in 2017?” or more generically, “Why doesn’t NCECA announce the cities more than 2 years out?” But that’s a question for another issue. (Hey, don’t be mad, I gotta keep you coming back, right? It’s like the cliffhanger at the end of your favorite TV series season finale.)