I’m just going to put it bluntly—this year’s College Art Association Annual Conference totally rocked in every way. Now, normally it’s a memorable occasion, a chance to hear some interesting panels of art scholars, check out the academic job market, and hang out with old and new friends. It’s the go-to occasion for those of us who love art and higher education. The last CAA conference I went to was two years ago when it was held in Chicago, and I was run off my feet trying to attend all the events I could.
This year, about a month before the 2016 conference in Washington D.C., Michelle Graves (an alum of my department) and I decided to put together a guerrilla film festival to show around the hotel where the conference was taking place. We put out a call to the communities of artists for 30-second video submissions and were surprised at the the energetic response we received. By the time we left for the conference, we had 23 videos on our 15-minute festival clip. The style and content of the videos really ran the gamut.
Setting up our mini projector on a tripod near power outlets at the conference turned out to be a snap. Our little festival fit inside a shopping bag, and we projected at least 10 times during the conference. It was a great way to meet people and talk about art, particularly new media art. We handed out a zine with all the artists’ names, video titles, and websites. A lot of people stopped and watched, and many people told us they were glad we were there. I think CAA, which has in the past been more oriented toward traditional art scholarship, is stretching to encompass newer art forms and issues, and we definitely were an example of that.
The 30 Seconds Festival was fantastic, but there were other experiences that led to this conference being amazing. In general, there was a perfect mix of fun and socializing with more heady intellectual stimulation. One of my favorite panels was called “In & Out of the Studio: New Ideas for Art Appreciation,” held by the Community College Professors of Art & Art History. They are so on in terms of teaching and had some wonderful ideas about how to engage students. It made me excited to get out on the job market.
However, I needed some downtime amid all these panels and the film festival. I had never been in Washington D.C. before, despite a long interest in politics and activism. I rented a bike and rode along the Potomac River and around the National Mall, seeing all the sites.
One day I met a fellow student from my program, Lilli Kayes, and we went to the International Spy Museum, which was a total blast, and then got dinner at a swanky Mexican restaurant. Through good fortune this was also Restaurant Week in Washington so we got the five-course meal and dug in. Afterward we caught a cab to see the New Media Caucus Showcase, where we saw some pretty cool presentations and had a chance to catch up with colleagues. I remember going to bed that night utterly content and exhausted.
To me, the whole experience was just one more confirmation of being in the right career, where I once again get to make and learn about art among some of the best people anywhere.