I stepped WAY outside my comfort zone this past weekend at the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) annual conference in Alexandria, VA, moderating a panel of local artists and talking about my own work in front of almost 200 other artists.
I joined SAQA about five or six years ago–I don’t remember the exact date–because I wanted to meet other artists who were interested in quilts as art, rather than as bed coverings. I do remember that I went to my first SAQA conference in May 2009 in Athens, Ohio. The conference that year was held in conjunction with the opening of Quilt National, which is maybe the most prestigious exhibit of quilt art in the country. I went to the conference by myself and I knew no one.
Quilters are generally friendly people, and by the end of that conference, I had met a few other artists and seen some amazing work at the exhibit that made me realize two things–I was on the right path, and I had a long way to go!
I’ve been to each conference since, and each time I come back renewed and energized. So last year I decided it was time to give back. Since the conference this year was in the DC area, I volunteered for the Special Events Committee that is in charge of putting the conference on and I got involved. When conference time rolled around this time, I knew lots of people–even though I hadn’t met all of them in person.
The Local Artists Panel is a staple at the SAQA conference, and it was my job to put it together this time. I wanted this panel to be accessible, diverse and interesting–and it worked! My panelists were Kristin La Flamme, who has exhibited widely and whose work is informed by her role as a military wife, Karen Schulz, who focuses on the elements of design in her work, Maria Simonssen, who creates three dimensional fiber pieces, and Ginny Smith, who uses traditional methods and a folk art style, and me. All of the artists had had their work exhibited in major fiber shows, and most had won awards, but they weren’t household names in the fiber art world–maybe they will start to be. Many thanks to each one of them for saying “yes” when I asked them to be part of the panel, and for sharing their individual stories. I got a lot of positive feedback from those in the audience that they were inspired by the artists who spoke and could identify with them–maybe some of those will be able to take the next step on their own artistic journeys as a result.
These conferences are great for networking with like-minded people–one of the first activities is always an artist “speed dating” event, where everyone sits at a table and has 90 seconds to introduce themselves, explain their work, and pass out business cards or postcards. Then you go to a different table and do it again. By the end of the event, you’ve had the opportunity to meet 25 or 30 other artists.
There are also mini-workshops and speakers, which are always informative and another opportunity to meet people. Even though I’m basically shy by nature, I made a point to sit at a different table as often as possible so I could meet someone new or talk to someone I didn’t know very well. I also connected with artists whose work I’ve purchased at the annual SAQA auction, and met some of those who had purchased my work. It was great to get to know them better.
This conference was a celebration of SAQA’s 25th anniversary, and Yvonne Porcella, the founder of the group, gave an interesting talk about SAQA’s beginnings, much of which I didn’t know.
Ultimately the point of all this is that the weekend was an affirmation of something I already knew–you get out of an organization what you put into it. I’ve gotten a lot from my membership in SAQA–exhibit opportunities, writing opportunities, the chance to have my work published, and a number of new friendships, among other things. Even though I was really nervous about getting up in front of the group–some of whom ARE household names in the fiber art world–and talking about my work, I’m glad I stepped up to volunteer. I got more out of it than I put into it.
If you’d like to know more about SAQA, visit the website at www.SAQA.com, and if you’re a member already, consider putting the next conference on your calendar–April 30-May 3, 2015 in Portland, OR.
Speaking of marking your calendar–my next event is the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival in Reston, VA next weekend–May 16-18 at the Reston Town Center. I’ll be in Booth 223 and I’d love to see you there!