Following yesterday’s post which focused on blogging related issues at the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC), I wanted to take a moment to put together some of my thoughts and observations on the rest of the conference…
Good Experience #1: Quality Of Fellow Panelists
From the moment I was contacted to take part in the blogging
session, I was pleased with the caliber of organizers involved with the
conference. My session manager, Frank J. Oteri, is at the top of the
list of professionals I admire and respect in this business. Although I
had never met any of the other speakers in the session, it was a
pleasure getting to know all of them. Moderator Monica Reinagel went
above and beyond to get the session organized and develop a clear
message. Dave Urlakis from Steppenwolf Theater was a real gem in the session; his combination of wit, humor, honesty, and brevity contributed a real spark to the session.
Likewise, from the moment San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman
made his opening comment, I thought to myself "I like this guy" and it
only got better from there. Joshua has a level head on his shoulders
and has the necessary vision to see how his component of the business
works hand in hand with the growing "blogosphere" (sorry to use that
term Joshua, I know you hate it but I can’t think of anything else that
works better). Lindsay Dreyer from danceruniverse.com rounded
out the panel with some fascinating insight into how a cooperative blog
can be successful using a non-traditional platform.
Good Experience #2: Conference Materials and Convention Center Employees
Although the convention center facilities were lacking (more
on that later) the majority of employees I encountered were helpful,
polite, attentive, and left me feeling like they sincerely wanted to
make my experience as pleasant as possible. The same is true for NPAC
and conference workers/volunteers. The vast majority of tangible
conference material was of good quality and I especially liked the name
bag pouches which made it easy to stow away the inevitable flood of
business cards. For those who love to collect conference schwag or just
feel comfortable lugging around a bunch of stuff all day, the
conference provided a black nylon tote emblazoned with the conference
brand. It is now in the trunk of my car along with my other grocery
bags (you can always use one more).
In-Between Experience #1: Networking
Arguably, the best parts conventions are the networking
opportunities. That held true for NPAC 2008 although the opportunities
were somewhat curtailed due to the number of organized inter-conference
social events. The hotel lobby proved to be one of the most convenient
and amiable locations for socializing and there were plenty of late
night events to satisfy even the most hardcore social hounds.
For future events, it would be nice to restrict the amount of
inter-conference social events to a single evening and encourage more
cross-pollination for the remaining days. This would reduce the work
load for conference planners and cut down the amount of stovepiping
between service organizations.
In-Between Experience #2: Town-Hall Caucuses
I was only able to attend one of the town-hall morning
caucus sessions and my observations were mixed. I definitely enjoyed
sitting at the table with 10 other conventioneers from a cross section
of disciplines but the bulk of discussions seemed hollow. Although the
sessions were charged with creating an agenda that activates the
performing arts community in America on the local, regional, and
national level, most of the solutions seemed to border more on
unrealistic dreams rather than tangible action items.
At the same time, it is fair to say that based on the opinions
expressed at my table, what I’ve read at other blogs, and the official
convention blog, my perspective on this seems to be in the minority.
For instance, my impression is that the majority opinion seemed to
center on "Messiah-centric" solutions in the form of creating some
national figure to step in and solve everyone’s problems.
That may be oversimplifying things a bit but look at the
evidence. When asked "What should we do about arts advocacy and
communicating our value at the NATIONAL level?" a solid 50 percent of those participating in the discussion felt that the best
solutions were to "organize a national media campaign with celebrity
spokespersons, catchy slogans (e.g. "Got Milk"), unified message, and
compelling stories" and "create a Department of Culture/Cabinet-level
position which is responsible for implementing a national arts policy."
The cabinet-level post suggestion is perhaps the most
nonsensical suggestion in the bunch (do we really want arts policy
dictated by a political appointee?). Solutions such as this only serve
to reinforce a negative stereotype that the arts community needs
someone else to convince the cultural consciousness that it is
worthwhile (and therefore incapable of rising to the occasion via
internal resources): "We’re good for you and you have to like us." I fear conversations like these only serve to damage the art and postpone systemic change throughout the business.
Conversely, grassroots oriented solutions were far less popular
among participants even though most evidence from non-performing arts
related nonprofit sectors indicate those efforts produce better
results. In particular, it would have been good to see a larger
discussion about the value of government affairs officers but that
didn’t happen on the day I attended (by that I mean mini-lobbyists not
the grant-only oriented variety).
Not-So-Good Experience #1: Conference Facilities
On my last day at the conference (Friday) I had the
opportunity to talk to a number of vendors and the vast majority were
very upset with the quantity and quality of foot traffic in the
exhibition hall. They also complained that the size of the exhibition
hall was three times larger than they needed and they were still spread
out over much of the floor space. I have to agree that the space was
huge; in fact, convention center employees were using Segues to get
around the floor and that can’t be a good sign that conventioneers
would be willing to explore all of the booths and exhibits.
To add insult to injury, the exhibition hall was located on
the top floor of the convention center which meant no one had to travel
through the hall to get to meeting rooms or the hotel. As such, once a
conventioneer picked up his or her registration kit, there was no
reason to step foot in the hall again.
On top of all that, the exhibition hall was noisy, hot, and
the concession prices made movie theaters seem like a bargain. If there
is another NPAC on the horizon, I hope the planners will consider these
points in order to select a more appropriate venue and avoid repeating
the Denver mistakes.
Not-So-Good Experience #2: Numerous Technical SNAFUs And Shortcomings
I’ve already written about
the anti-blogger/anti-wireless design of the Denver Convention Center
so I won’t repeat myself here on those points. At the same time, there
were a number of little issues that resulted in entirely frustrating
experiences. For instance, in addition to the lack of reliable wireless
access in meeting rooms, most of the sessions I attended (including the
one I participated) didn’t have enough microphones for everyone on the
panel. That might seem like a trivial issue but it wasn’t as though
there were a dozen panelists; quite the opposite, most sessions had
four panelists or less.
In our session, sliding the microphone back and forth resulted
in a distracting amplified annoyance. It also prevented any hope of
achieving a relaxed, fluid feel to the session as panelists were unable
to respond to each other without a gap in the conversation. As a
session attendee, this issue resulted in many panelists not speaking
close enough to the microphone which made it difficult to hear what was
Not-So-Good Experience #3: Copious Waste
Although the quality of convention materials was by and
large fantastic, opportunities to reduce the amount of unnecessary
waste abounded. For example, the 3" three-ring binders only held a ½"
worth of conference material and many of the color pages would have
looked just as professional printed in black and white instead of
wasting ink on single color printing.
The "library" was especially unsettling. Located in the
exhibition hall, it was a place for vendors and performing arts groups
to leave their respective marketing materials. Although it was nice to
peruse the offerings, the stacks and stacks of full color glossy
material was enough to send poor Al Gore into a catatonic state of
environmental shock. In hindsight, I wish I took a picture so you could
see the "Super-Size" nature of the display for yourself (if anyone has
a pic, please let me know).
All in all, most of the negative issues above can be
corrected without any additional costs or demands on limited human
resources for those involved with planning and managing the conference.
That’s a good thing because some of the problems in Denver have the
potential to become show-stoppers if not properly addressed by the time
the next NPAC rolls around.
For those interested in the handful of pics I took during the trip, you can visit the photo album here.