SH: It’s like you’re reading my mind (or I’m reading yours). At this stage of the game, there is no longer a question of whether or not any given niche market does or does not embrace social media or the digital realm. If you make and sell things, you are in direct competition (read partnership) with social media for your customer’s attention. Our approach to social media is that we need to meet our customers where they are, within reason. We crunch a ton of data, and it tells us that, while we need to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, but we perhaps don’t need a tumblr or snapchat account. And honestly, we can’t chase every new meerkat or periscope platform that pops its head up—our analytics tell us where our traffic is coming from, and we go meet them there.
How do you ideally imagine someone utilizing NCECA as an educational tool? What is your target audience?
JG: I expect to be surprised by creative people and their use of the information rich collateral that NCECA makes available. During my years with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild when we brought high school students to conferences, I felt that the richest educational experiences sometimes came out of guided informal interactions. For instance, we created a career exploration project and set an assignment for students to visit with people in the Resource Hall with a set of questions about different study and work paths that they were taking in the field. There is now a good deal of conference content that Cindy and others have worked so hard to make accessible via our blog and YouTube channel to be consumed in homes, dorm rooms, classrooms and studios. I’d like to see more discourse continuing online after the conference about some of the provocative ideas and people that have presented there. While I see this occasionally, it’s not always apparent. Examples of this include Theaster Gates’s inspired performative keynote presentation in 2014 and Roberto Lugo’s Emerging Artist talk in 2015. The videos released of these have garnered followings online as have closing lectures by Malcolm Davis (2011) and Jack Troy (2015). Another less apparent example is the blog bothartistandmother.com, which grew out of a topical discussion and exhibition that took place through recent conferences. The work we are doing with Mark Shapiro on apprenticeships also has this potential. The nature of the digital age is that NCECA can provide a platform that helps to connect people and further develop ideas. Our target audience is shaped by the fact that we are a large conference with a diverse array of programs and exhibitions. It will continue to evolve out of the ideas that are important to members and the extent to which they are meaningful to others.
How do you ideally imagine someone using Ceramics Arts Daily and ceramics publications as an educational tool? What is your target audience?
SH: We didn’t quite envision this as much more than an extension of our existing brands at first, so we thought the existing educational value in the magazines and books is what we would be disseminating. What we learned in very short order was that instructors were telling (sometimes requiring) their students to sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily, and they were using it in the classroom on a regular basis. We see our site registrations, traffic, and time on site jump every year at the end of August for this reason.
Past and Future:
What would be an ideal future project or collaboration?
JG: In collaboration one is always hoping for a relationship and experience that involves shared vision and enables the partners to reach beyond their own capacities. I don't have a concrete image of what content this will be focused on, in part because there are so many areas where one could focus at this point in time. I am interested in the way that ceramics is emerging in the contemporary art scene and the gulf in perception that still exists between the world of NCECA and society at large. What does it mean for people working with clay and students pursuing creative careers? What can we do to make the creative possibilities and pedagogical concerns of new technologies more accessible to people working across the ceramics continuum? How can we encourage more communities of practice to work through similar ideas in different contexts?
SH: It would be really cool to explore setting up a Potters Council facility for residencies, classes, and exhibitions. This has always been a sort of “pie in the sky” project that is somewhat out of scope right now—but it’s fun to think about.
Where do you see NCECA in 5-10 years, what changes are underfoot?
JG: We are looking to reform NCECA policies surrounding student status. It appears that more students are going to school part time and over longer periods of time. We need to consider how we can accommodate these shifting norms into our systems, programs and opportunities. We’d like to develop more programs that explore the impact and influence of new technologies, but in a manner that goes beyond what can be addressed in a traditional panel format. We are always on the lookout for inspiring presenters who can connect with genuine passion about ceramics and the world at large—people that can make our work feel even more relevant and impactful to help us envision the future. Concerns about sustainability and changes taking place in education are becoming ever more critical. We are looking for opportunities to engage with these concerns in more meaningful ways. Doing some of these things will require more staff and resources. We need to find ways to make that possible.
Where do you see Ceramics Monthly in 5-10 years, what changes are underfoot?
SH: I wouldn’t even venture a guess on this, except to say that all of our publications will likely remain in print for a very long time, and that we will continue to tweak the focus and format to be relevant and timely. Very soon (perhaps by the time this goes up) we will have the entire archive of Ceramics Monthly online (as well as Pottery Making Illustrated). This is the kind of thing we will continue to explore and implement as technology and demand warrants it.
How has your mission changed over the years? And what has influenced its development and change?
JG: My sense is that while NCECA’s mission may have been revised a few times through strategic plans and board retreats, the organization’s vision has been quite consistent. It’s always been about clay, creation and connection. I don’t imagine those three primary strands of inquiry changing, but perhaps the means through which we will affect them will. Even in the first NCECA Journal published in 1980, we find indications that NCECA aspired to be more than a conference. Some of the changes we have been working on over the past five years have been focused on this aspiration and I expect that to continue.
SH: Honestly, the core mission of making and distributing very high quality content on ceramic art has never changed, but my own personal involvement with that mission has changed several times, primarily having to do with accepting increasingly more strategic roles related to that content. I became more responsible for the formats and platforms for the content—often times for the very same readers; sometimes you’re on your couch with print, sometimes in the classroom with a laptop and projector, sometimes at the clay supplier with just your phone, sometimes at the office on your desktop or laptop.
Just because we are all engaged in the pursuit of a very well-established tradition does not mean we don’t live in the contemporary world, where we expect to get our information where and how we want at any given moment.
At this point, my mission is to look forward and make sure we do the right “next thing,” and I trust the day-to-day nuts and bolts of publishing to the very competent editorial, advertising, and production staff.
What is a memorable conference presentation and why?
JG: The most memorable conference presentations include compelling ideas and people that are passionate and informed on the matters on which they are speaking. This does not always make them popular when they are being delivered. I think that some of the best and most memorable presentations in NCECA’s history include some that made for discomfort. Over time, NCECA has consistently sought out and welcomed presenters like John Waters, James Elkins, Ron Nagle, Roberta Smith and Theaster Gates who looked at the field critically and challenged our notions about clay, community and the broader culture. From feedback via emails, comments in social media and responses to surveys, we learn that some people want information that they can apply in their daily studio and teaching practice. I think that’s a relevant response to what we are doing within our conferences. That said, I think there are others like me who attend the conference seeking experiences that may be less immediately pragmatic. We are hoping to encounter people and ideas that extend our comfort zones and compel us to look at our practices with fresh viewpoints. NCECA does well when it strikes a balance to address both of these perspectives.