Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Online Conferences for Art Societies - a sustainable solution for getting more artists together?

Why don't more regional and national art societies hold Online Conferences?

When you're a local art society there's nothing to stop you limiting your activities to your locality - because, in all probability, that is where most of your members live. They'll either turn up or not to group events depending on how much they like being social and sociable.

However - if you're a regional or national organisation - why do we still behave as if everybody has to go to one place to get together to discuss / see / learn about / demonstrate our favourite art genre / medium?

In these days of reducing our carbon footprint, surely we need to be doing more in terms of finding alternative and more sustainable solutions which allow people to get together and enjoy what they like best about their art - and learn from one another and others.

One of the major benefits of the C19 saga (count the ways you can say "you know what" without triggering google filters!) is that more and more people have learned about the technology for getting online. I think if I'd been an investor in Zoom I'd be very happy right now!

What we saw in 2020

Lots of Annual get-togethers and annual conferences by art societies - which occur predominantly in the USA were cancelled in 2020. However this happened early enough in the year for a number to have time to work out how they could "replatform" the conference - out of a hotel and onto Zoom. 

Those who had some gumption got their act together, had a major think - and took the Conference Online. I think this might well be because there's a considerable amount of income for art societies generated by these conferences.

Which is how, in October 2020, I came to be sitting in my armchair for four days straight and participating in Online in October the very first Virtual Annual Conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Given this was very much a "suck it and see" and a somewhat "seat of the pants" exercise it's amazing how well it worked. They took their normal convention schedule and digitised it - which meant a series of sessions which were mini workshops, evening ones which were lectures or presentations and then a social at the end of the day. In a lot of ways it was very much like the Conference I attended - and spoke at - in Pittsburgh in 2019.  However, the major difference was I was always five hours behind and social interaction - which was the only time members faces got on screen - was always in the middle of the night for me so I didn't actually make it to any of the socials. However I got through most of everything else after buying the "all in" option.

How did others cope with the change?

    I took a look online and came across other examples of online conferences organised by different art organisations

    Art Societies

    the organizers of the annual Glass Art Society conference pivoted from their extensively planned in-person event in Småland, Sweden, to the artist organization's first-ever online conference in May 2020.

    Other member organisations

    Overall, there was a lot of feedback and learning from the first tries at this new form of social interaction online - and lots to build into the learning for the conferences in 2021.

    Major benefits seen from 2020 events

    • There's a massive increase in people attending when an event can be livestreamed. 
    • For those attending there are major savings to be made in terms of 
      • not having to take time out to travel 
      • not having to fund both travel and accommodation (which can be very expensive)
    • You get to meet and hear from people face to face who you might not have met at a 'real' conference - for example: very popular teachers in sessions / workshops which have limited numbers get to reach many more people - because there's no limit on attendees in a virtual session
    • Conferences for art societies which have international members - become even more international. This in part is because this is where the major costs saving are to be made in terms of time and funds compared to those who live more locally - or at least in the country. So that then extends the reach
    • Organisations gain new members - who join so they can go to conference. Maybe this is because everybody was desperate for social interaction given the events of 2020 - but my impression so far is that the changes made and benefits which accrued in 2020 have been reinforced in 2021(Do let me know if you think different).

    What we've seen in 2021

    What we've seen this year has been more of the same - but done rather better. 

    What I've also noticed is that there seem to be an awful lot of new digital platforms all very keen to get the business of different organisations. I think we can safely say that the online conference is very definitely here to stay - even if we get the in-person versions back too.

    Here's there examples of what I've noticed in 2021 is
    • The Museums Association has developed a hybrid model for its 2021 Annual Conference
      • a face to face conference in November 2021 in Liverpool
      • PLUS a live-streamed online conference for those who prefer/need to stay home
      • PLUS they have a very interesting approach to fees for the two different versions of the Conference. Note (below) we non members can go virtual for £90 for 3 days!
    Virtual fees are a LOT LOWER than face to face real attendance Fees

    In Liverpool you can expect three days of interactive and topical content, networking opportunities, social events, physical tours and practice sessions. If you can’t attend in person, joining online for some or all of the event gives you the opportunity to access the same great content at your own convenience.

    For all our attendees the live-streamed programme will be available on demand so people can watch sessions that they miss at a later date. Museums Association 
    CAA held its 109th Annual Conference as a virtual program, February 10–13, 2021, as an initial part of the association’s digital transformation. Providing content in a virtual format preserved and enhanced access to the program and allowed conference attendance to expand beyond boundaries embracing a global audience.

    My own experience in 2021

    It's now nearly two weeks since I sat down for four very intensive days of ASBA'a Online in October  Virtual Annual Conference 2021.

    I was exhausted by the time it finished! Splendid content for the most part and the technology worked almost perfectly.

    The one conclusion I've come to is for an entirely Virtual Conference the sessions could benefit from being a bit more spaced out - or even 15 minutes break between each session. Three hours - short break three hours short break and another three hours is pretty intensive! I never managed the whole day in one go again after the first day.

    I did however very much enjoy the fact I had a week after the end of the conference to catch up via Zoom on sessions I missed and those I wanted to watch again.

    What's your take on it all?

    As always I'll be inviting comments via Facebook - but you can also contact me 

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