If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to start mapping your schedule for the 2014 NCECA conference!  Each year, people are heard saying “There’s just so MUCH!  How do I do it all?”  The answer is that you really just can’t, so you have to make some choices.  If you’re attending for the first time, this can be especially overwhelming, but even conference veterans have challenges fitting it all in.  (NOTE: First time attendees wanting a good overview of all the conference offerings should join me on Wednesday night immediately before the keynote for the NCECA First Time Members Session)

We’ve sought out some suggestions on how to approach the conference as a whole.  Keep reading for input from members with a variety of backgrounds & interests.  It may help you make some difficult choices!  For years, I personally would go through the program guide with a highlighter, and mark all of the sessions that appealed to me.  (Now with the NCECA App, I can just click the bookmark flag.  This is available on the WEB APP version as well for anyone without a smartphone/device).  Then I look to find large gaps of time, and I use those slots to go browse the Resource Hall and see some of the shows inside the convention center.  The Tuesday night Gallery Expo reception is a must for me.  I also like to try and get out into the community to see some of the amazing exhibitions of artwork.  I never can seem to find time in the day to do that, but I do hit as many openings on Thursday night as I can, and I tend to close each day with wonderful conversations with old friends and new friends, usually in the Lobby bar of the conference hotel.  By the time I’m done, my schedule looks something like this:

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Of course, I also know going into the conference, that it’s unlikely things will work out exactly as I have planned them, and as a board member, I have a variety of other responsibilities to see to, but I set alarms in my phone for the absolute do-not-miss events.  For me, the number one is the Virtual Realities Panel.  Also at the top of the list are visiting the Resource Hall, the Keynote/opening ceremony, the Thursday night receptions for Flow and the NSJE, the K-12 show, both sets of Demonstrating artists, the friday night dance & the closing ceremonies.  And I will also plug the NCECA members meeting.  Even before I was on the board, I enjoyed those, and it’s a really good place to meet people and get involved (plus there are drawing for free stuff there)!

As I said, I sought information from several other NCECA members to offer you a wide variety of advice and input.

  • Ben Carter, offered some great advice.  If you don’t already know him, Ben is a ceramic professional based in Santa Cruz, CA. He received his Masters Degree in ceramics from the University of Florida. He maintains a studio, teaches workshops and exhibits nationally. He is the creator and host of the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler blog and podcast. You can see an online portfolio of his work at www.carterpottery.com.  Read his complete advice by clicking here.

I particularly love what he wrote about meeting your clay heroes.  I still remember the conference when I met Robin Hopper…

  • Speaking of Robin, he wrote a lovely bit of instructions for first time attendees prior to the Seattle NCECA, and has given me permission to share it with you all here.  He also wanted me to add that it’s very important for attendees to get to the Racine Museum of Art, which has one of the biggest public collections of Contemporary Clay and what looks to be the definitive exhibition of Toshika Takaezu.  Read the rest of Robin’s advice here
  • Ron Roy also gave me some fabulous suggestions:
    • I just look up the lectures I want to attend and spend most of the rest of my time in the clayart room and the commercial exhibits.
    • My most enjoyable time is spent with friends I only see once a year – at NCECA.
    • I know it is a big problem for individuals attending by themselves – especially the first time. I wonder if there could be some members who could provide some way for those who want to connect with others with common interests.
    • Perhaps some organization of people with common interests is called for so they can meet each other. I don’t have any ideas at the moment but will let you know if something surfaces.

I’d like to echo his third sentiment and once again draw your attention to the NCECA for First Attendees session.  Not only will it give you a conference overview and opportunity to ask any question you have, but you will meet other first-time attendees.  It’s always more fun to navigate the conference with someone else, even if they are as new as you are!

Those of you out there who are students might be interested in the Student Perspective of the conference, so I asked NCECA Student Director-at-large, Maccabee Shelley for his approach:

  •  I’m a student, a technician, and am primarily interested in ceramic sculpture.  Milwaukee will be my 6th NCECA, but I know I will still be overwhelmed (in a good way).  I look at the program online before I leave home and identify lectures and panels I don’t want to miss.  I like to arrive Wednesday to register early, familiarize myself with the conference center, and avoid the rush.  My first stop is the student critique room to sign up for a time slot.  Then its off to the resource hall, but not to shop….yet.  First priority is to schedule time with grad programs I’m interested in, the booths will be there later.  I also look forward to dropping off my cups for the sale.  I won’t miss the keynote speaker, but I’ll see if I am up for the Randell session later on.  Whenever I find a moment to spare I stop into the demonstration rooms, and as of recently, the process room.  The Expo, Project Space, and the K-12 show are great places to stop into between programming.  More often than not, presenters I am interested in have shows in the area which I like to see to put their words in context.  I also like to attend the NJSE reception, but its important to come back when I can actually see the art.  Evenings are a great time to get to the shows.  I especially like the large buildings that contain many exhibitions because they cut down on travel time.  If I could give one piece of advise, it would be to really try to connect with people at the conference.  I bring business cards, and often introduce myself after a particularly interesting presentation.  NCECA Connections is another great way to meet and greet.  Of course, its not all fun and art, I also attend both NCECA business meeting and the annual meeting of the Green Task Force.  I have recently learned just how member-driven NCECA really is; that we can all make a tangible contribution.
    I never leave my hotel without a camera, snack, water, phone/charger, business cards, and a sketchbook.  You never know where your NCECA experience may take you.