As I reflect back on my 2011 CAA conference experience, it was by far “unique.” I qualify it for the number of milestones that took place, in the place of such familiarity.
It was wonderful to be back in NYC again—I have missed the energy, the noise, even the surliness of the baristas at Starbucks and the delis. I thrive on these opportunities for challenging my mindset everyday, to see how far I need to push myself to smile, be present, and recalibrate my day, as I did for seven years as a NYC resident. California, with its smiling baristas, makes it too easy. Also, the sheer availability of free or low-cost art activities is as unfathomable as I remember. Comparing New York City to the San Francisco Bay Area, SF might as well be in a permanent art drought.
This was the first year that I attended the annual conference without an agenda, the first time in 13 years. No session to chair. No paper to present. No committee work to see to. No duties of an outside job to worry about (such as supporting faculty hiring committees). The only other person I offered support to was my spouse, who was attending his very first conference, and was unsuccessful in securing any interviews for a job. This was a very difficult outcome for both of us, but we made the best of an unpleasant situation.
It was a conference in which I re-evaluated my current standing as an MA in art history, and explored my potential future as an MFA in studio. This has been a large, and exciting, shift to make. I have been an art historian for 17 years—a very long time to get comfortable with a very successful identity. Yet, I’m still just young enough to make a choice to change. The circumstances of the change were not under my control, but at least the choice itself is mine to make.
This is also the first conference wherein I have spoken openly about the circumstances of my career challenges. Since 2001, I had been very private about the turmoil in my private, and professional, life. As I have watched my professional life fall apart, while working to regain my health and sanity, it just has not mattered much anymore. Now that everything is out on the table, it has been incredible the support I have received, both from long-time colleagues and strangers alike. It reminds me of how important these conferences are. Not just to present papers, but to share ideas, experiences, and connections.
Back in California now, I am contacting all the people I have collected business cards from, making new connections. I am preparing the short-term plan, which is basically maintaining status quo—continue with the studio practice, and the portfolio. Then there is the long-term plan, preparing for the next application window.