KANSAS CITY — NCECA’s 50th anniversary conference ended recently. It was (officially, anyway) a four-day romp in Kansas City, Missouri filled with lectures, exhibitions, friends, and everything clay. This year’s conference was NCECA’s biggest thus far, with more than 6,000 participants, dozens of exhibitions, and more events, openings, and parties than we could count. While there’s plenty to see, the conference can be overwhelming and it is difficult to discern a central theme.
Above image: @ericordway posts his #ncecahaul to Instagram.
NCECA is a lesson in “having it all,” learning to enjoy a weekend fully, with a limited budget and the painful knowledge that you won’t see it all.
This means you need a plan. Maybe the plan is hour by hour, with detailed transportation, and schedules. Maybe the plan is “going with the flow” and seeing where it goes. Either way is fine. Just make a plan and then be flexible with that plan, because it is bound to change.
Getting and Staying There
A good NCECA starts with a good home base.
Many students (and NCECA attendees) choose to stay in the hotel adjacent to the conference center, spitting rooms with 2, 3, or even 8 other students. You’re close to the conference center, can swing home whenever you need to drop off a recent purchase, and you’re at the center of the action. Even splitting it several ways, these rooms can run at about $200 a night plus tax, so you’re still paying quite a bit for lodging on top of your other costs to attend.
AirBnB is a great alternative, often offering access to a kitchen, living room, and other amenities. Depending on the place you stay (and whether you rent a room or the entire place), it can be much cheaper than a hotel, especially if you share with a friend. It might be further from the conference center, so be sure to check on things like transit access, Uber and taxi prices, and walking distance before making your final call.
The unexpected benefit of AirBnB is that you’re rooming with a local, who can often make great recommendations for food, drinks, and entertainment off the beaten, NCECA path.
Getting around is key at the NCECA conference, as exhibitions and “off-program” events can take you all over the city. First, acknowledge that you won’t get everywhere, or see everything, and then follow these tips.
Install Uber. Make all your friends install Uber. Gift each other with free rides all weekend long. Split the trips when you run out of free rides.
Take local transportation. It’s cheap, good for people watching, and it gives you a chance to see the city differently.
Take the NCECA bus. Seriously. Just do it once. It’s similar to taking a touristy double-decker in a foreign city, and you get the same looks, but hey! You saw all the exhibitions in one go and your friends are scrambling on a Saturday to play catch up. Worth it.
NCECA Events and Programming
Consider splitting (this post is not sponsored by NCECA) a pass with a friend. Passes are cheaper for students, but not overwhelmingly affordable. Passes are only necessary for the exhibitors hall (which has tables for schools, residencies, publications, and commercial vendors), lectures, and student critiques. Between the two (or three of you), I almost guarantee you have diverse enough interests to make this work.
I recommend at least a few lectures or panels, just to know what the smarty-pantses in your field are up to. Or a demo, you might learn something!
Otherwise, prioritize openings and exhibitions, get inspired and enjoy the celebrations!
Take a few minutes to network and meet people, let your friends or professors introduce you to others. Don’t be shy about meeting your idols. NCECA connections are invaluable, and let’s face it: everyone there is pretty darn nice.
Shop. Or trade. Either way, don’t leave empty handed. The best part of the post-NCECA blues (they’re real, people) is looking at your treasure trove of new ceramics, stickers, and postcards. Follow up with other folks’ hauls on Instagram with the hashtag #NCECAhaul.
Go Off Script
The NCECA program is great, but it’s made months in advance and curated by professionals. That’s wonderful, but what are workers-in-clay if not those who play by our own rules?
Try something new next year, whether it’s an Instagram game like #HideNSeekah (@hidenseekah), organized by Adam Field (@adamfieldpottery), which plays Instagram hide n’ seek with pots and sculptures from everyone from Peter Pincus to Zemer Peled.
Or check out it’s NSFW off-shoot @hide_dickseekah, which hid clay phalluses around Kansas City.
Or the BBQ themed @NCECA_rib_hunt from Objective Clay, which encouraged participants to find more than 300 ceramic, BBQ ribs and trade them at the WVU/Archie Bray/Red Star/Belger Crane Yard Art Party for prizes ranging from tools to t-shirts.
Keep an eye out for alternative sales, venues, and events. This year, Troy Bungart and Moey Hart hosted three nights of Guerilla Pop Up Shops out of their hotel room at the Marriot, selling works from different artists every night! (#TroyandMoeShow on instagram).
Bottom line, approach NCECA like you’d approach Burning Man.
Bring something to trade (pots, micro-sculptures, stickers, business cards, postcards, a new hashtag), we have tote bags for a reason. Get that swag!
Keep your phone charger in that tote bag; the week is photo heavy.
Leave your home life at home (no homework, work-work, or other-work is done at NCECA).
Drink lots of water.
See you next year!
What are your secrets to Hacking NCECA? Let us know in the comments!