This was my fourth time attending an NCECA conference and I have to say this was my favorite one yet!!
For those not familiar, NCECA is a massive conference dedicated to all things ceramics. NCECA stands for National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Despite the word “national” in the name, the NCECA conference is a truly international experience, drawing exhibitors, demonstrators, and participants from around the world. Typically the conference includes panels, demonstrations, lectures, films, and gallery shows throughout the host city, which rotates each year.
This year I volunteered to work the conference, hosted in Milwaukee. It was my first time as a conference volunteer and after the great experience I had, probably not my last! The major perk to volunteering is that it waives the conference fee. The best part though, was that through volunteering, I met a ton of artists I admire who I might not have met otherwise. It was also a really fascinating behind the scenes look into the massive amount of planning and logistics that go into a conference as large as NCECA.
I helped with the NCECA merchandise booth, was a docent in the project space (where several artists had installation pieces), and checked badges for entry into conference events. I ran into fun and interesting people doing every one of those things!
Milwaukee was a very friendly town and I felt right at home. I’m connected with a lot of ceramics people on social media, and starting Tuesday night, it was really exciting to see first a trickle, then a flood of status updates and photos announcing arrival in Milwaukee!
I noticed a shift this year in my attitude towards NCECA. Previously, attending the conference as an undergrad, my primary goal was to take in as much knowledge as possible. I saw it as an intensive session of ceramics class. NCECA releases the conference schedule ahead of time, and my usual M.O. is to attack it with a highlighter, marking all of the panels, demos, and presentations I want to see. I did that this year, too but . . . I noticed myself being a lot more lax about sticking to the schedule in favor of meeting up with people I knew instead.
For the first time I experienced NCECA as a grand reunion, and a community showcase allowing ceramics people to show everyone in the field what they are working on and thinking about in their studio and teaching practices. As an undergrad I saw the presenters and demonstrators as practically legends- I had learned about some of these people in class; some of them even had glazes named after them in our studio. While there are still plenty of ceramic artists I think of as legendary, this was the first time I experienced NCECA as a giant peer-sharing exercise. Walking through the galleries this year I saw work from artists I had met at Arrowmont and it felt like bumping into a friend.
Of course, I literally bumped into plenty of friends that week too. People I met at Arrowmont, people I had met on my graduate school visits, and people from my undergrad years. I also met several artists I have long admired and was finally able to tell them how much I love their work in person! Helpfully, everyone wears a name badge. The great thing about NCECA is that you can be pretty much anywhere, getting a coffee at Starbucks, say, and an artist you’ve admired for years joins the line right behind you. I always hear that networking is very important in the creative fields, and NCECA is networking on overdrive. I took home so many business cards!
That week was a whirlwind of happenings and meeting people and I tried to take as many photos as I could amid the activity. Here are some highlights:
Another goal I had during my visit was to seek out delicious food. My favorite place was the Milwaukee Public Market, which had a dazzling variety of food stalls, each looking and smelling more delicious than the last! I enjoyed this massive inflated crab above the oyster bar.
The interior of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Reminiscent of a ship’s prow, it’s built right onto the riverfront and as a result some almost liquid like light filters in through the windows. It was in this wonderful space that the NCECA invitational show, Flow, was installed.
Next came a whirlwind of socializing, and unfortunately all of my photos of these gatherings looked like they were literally taken in a whirlwind. So you’ll have to take my word for it. I was lucky to reunite with some of the awesome friends I made at Arrowmont in summer 2013, as well as my professor, alums, and current undergrads from Truman where I went for my BFA. I also serendipitously met up with some fun people I met on my grad school visits. Wednesday evening I could not have been more excited to attend a gathering of Indiana U Bloomington people- professors, current grads, alums, and one of the other prospective students that got in with me this year! We will be sharing a studio this fall so we were both thrilled to discover that we get along great and share a lot of interests. I love the IUB community so much already! It worked out really well that I got to spend so much time with them at NCECA before starting this fall.
The last day of NCECA I went show-hopping with the ever-so-awesome Lisa York, my ceramics other half from Arrowmont 2013. We checked out the juried student exhibition, showcasing work from current grads, undergrads, and postbacs. I loved this haunting piece, “Posession,” by Gunyoung Kim.
We closed out the day with a visit to one of the most fun art shows I have experienced in a long time. It was called Within the Menagerie, and it featured work by a few artists including Magda Gluszek and Lindsay Pichaske, whose work I just love.
In keeping with the title, the show featured works about animals, animal human hybrids, or generally circus-y creations, a theme right up my alley. Many of the pieces invited you to become part of the menagerie with interactive components. There was a finger puppet theater populated with puppets made by artists in the show:
As a person who occasionally makes functional objects I know the excitement and connection that comes with interacting with a piece of art. Drinking from a handmade mug brings a different satisfaction than a manufactured one. Until now I had always placed sculpture into firmly “non-interactive” territory. The Menagerie show was extremely inspiring because it showed me that interacting with a sculpture can offer the same type of connection as with a functional piece. Of everything I saw at NCECA, these pieces were the most meaningful and memorable for me. This show started the gears turning in my head, wondering how I could explore the idea of interactivity in my own sculptural work.
And really, being inspired is another cornerstone of the NCECA experience. There is inspiration in every show and event, and most of all in the motivation and hard work you see other members of the community putting forth. It’s a great shot in the arm to go back to your studio practice with fresh ideas and fresh energy.
Speaking of energy- NCECA was closed out this year by a huge dance party where everyone from professors emeritus to freshmen cut loose and had a fantastic time dancing the night away. The dance happens every year but this year’s band was the best yet. I’ll close out this post with a link to their Latin Jazz take on War Pigs. What could be better??