Monday, March 2, 2009

CAA 2009 Update

The College Arts Association (art historians and studio art professors) just held its annual conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center last week. It was a great conference this year for reasons both professional and personal.

On the personal side, I lived in LA from 1979 to 1987 and again for a short period in the early 90’s. I hadn’t been back for a long time. I didn’t have time to get away from downtown, but I enjoyed seeing the new-ish Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the rest of the LA music center, where I used to work in the early 80’s. My collegue Denise and I stayed at the Millennium Biltmore, a classic deco/Moorish hotel that hosted the academy awards back in the 1930’s, and hosted many official Grammy afterparties in 90’s when I was involved with NARAS, so on the whole it was a real trip down memory lane. I enjoyed it and want to go back soon. Also, more friends from SF were able to participate this year, which made events like the open houses at UCLA (Hammer, Fowler and Broad Art Center) and LACMA a lot more fun (plus Vodka, etc...). Staples Center and the new LA Live complex really added a lot to a part of downtown that used to be a scary no-man's land around the convention center.

In my opinion, I thought the panels this year were better thought out and more useful than those of the previous year. Also, the level of participation in LA contrasted with last year in Dallas was significant. Not only was there a greater selection of topics and speakers, but there was also a greater selection of events and many more publishers represented in the book fair (like I need more art books…).

Denise and I agreed that the best session of the conference for us was a presentation about the restructuring of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA, which I’ve blogged about previously). Graham Beal (Museum Director) and Nancy Jones (Exec Director of Learning and Interpretation) told us how the staff of DIA evaluated their member’s viewing habits in the museum, and how they reorganized the museum’s galleries to enhance the visitor’s experience. They also talked in depth about their successful effort to create more viewer interaction with the collection by adding innovative video. Best of all, neither Beal or Jones stood at the podium and read a paper to us, and seemed genuinely warm and engaging as people.

Every year the NEH and NEA come and talk about their grant and program guidelines for the year. At the NEH session everyone was very open to discussion and supportive of everyone’s needs and projects. There was also a very useful session about publishing for journals, art books, and exhibition catalogs sponsored by the CAA student and emerging professionals committee. Aside from the practical advice imparted in this session, the panelists also explained the complex political interplay between academics, museums and book publishers which was both fascinating and important to know.

Other talks I enjoyed were An Androgynous Medium? Odilon Redon, Pastel and Symbolism (Rachel Sloan); Remembering the Unknowns: Memorial and Class Conflict after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (Ellen Wiley Todd, George Mason University); Pre-Funk Peter Saul (David McCarthy, Rhodes College); The Influence of Manga on American Logo Design (Mervi Pakaste, Kansas State University); The Power of Instant Communities: MySpace and facebook (Michael Salmond, Northern Illinois University) and Sublime Damage (Ivan Gaskell, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums). This is only a tiny sample of this year’s offerings.

Next year Chicago (in February! brrrr).

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