CommonWealth: National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture To Host 2009 Conference in Boston
From August 26-29, the Boston branch of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) will welcome hundreds of members from arts and media communities nationwide for its biennial national conference at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Founded in 1980, NAMAC is a nonprofit consortium of over 300 media, visual, and interdisciplinary arts organizations serving to support and advocate for the media arts. The conference, titled CommonWealth, will be co-hosted by the Center for Independent Documentary and other local media and arts-related organizations. NAMAC encourages all interested individuals and organizations to register for the conference before the deadline this Friday, August 21.
The theme for the conference, CommonWealth, is not merely a salute to this year’s host state. The topic was also chosen to recognize the current climate of immense change in the United States: “Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen incredible change — from the economic crash, to our country’s political shift, to the explosion in relevance of social networks and participatory media," explains Yolanda Hippensteele, the producer for the 2009 conference. "These changes have huge impacts on our field and how we sustain our organizations, connect with our audiences and communities, and create and distribute art and media. This dizzying mix of opportunity and threat lands us in a moment where the media arts and visual arts fields have a critical need to come together, assess where we are, and plot radically new approaches for a thriving media and arts sector.”
Susi Walsh, director of the Center for Independent Documentary, adds, “The CommonWealth theme highlights a sense of the common good; a sense that we all need to share in our common assets and to look at what we can build together. We want to come away from competition and move forward into collaboration.”
This month will be the first time Boston hosts the NAMAC national conference. Over the past five years, Susi Walsh labored alongside other local media organizations to get our city on the map. In 2004, Walsh participated in creating the Alliance for Independent Motion Media, a group dedicated to improving production support for independent film and video in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Production Coalition formed around the same time, and the two organizations banded together to start a number of funding and research initiatives on behalf of local media arts.
After receiving a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the two groups traveled to Philadelphia for the 2005 NAMAC conference. It was here that the Boston media leaders were inspired to bring the conference to the Hub. Walsh recalls, “We went to see what was happening on the national level that we could bring back to help us solve some problems in Boston. While we were there, the energy that we all felt was tremendous. We learned so much from what other people were trying and how they were sharing their ideas. We thought we should really bring that spirit home. We want to open our unique collaboration to a national dialogue rather than just a local one.”
For this year’s conference, the preparation itself has been a collaborative effort. Over 30 Boston-based media art organizations have come together to form the local host committee. Deborah Obalil, NAMAC Conference Local Events and Sponsorship Manager, says, “The committee has been meeting over the past six months to identify where our off-site events will be held. The organizations have come up with themes for some of the conference content and have designated speakers who highlight these themes. They have really helped us plan to showcase the Boston community as best as possible and focus on what is so important about this city.”
The major events for the conference aim to combine the important history and culture of Boston with its people’s eagerness to experiment with art and technology. The opening reception Wednesday night will be held at the MIT Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibit titled Connections, put together by the social media group at the MIT Media Lab. The NAMAC award ceremony will be held the following evening at the Massachusetts State House.
According to Hippensteele, “NAMAC awards are presented each year by the Board of Directors to a media artist, a media arts organization, and a philanthropic organization that have made a major contribution to the independent media arts field.” This year, NAMAC will honor independent filmmaker Jonas Mekas, the public art organization Creative Time, and the artists’ service organization Creative Capital.
Throughout the conference, a number of panels and workshops will be offered to attendees. According to the program, the topics to be discussed include: media and arts policy, arts and economic development, participatory media and user-generated content, the future of public media, audience and revenue development in the digital age, arts and social change, the state of arts funding, and social media, among others.
The organizers at NAMAC are also promising a unique conference feature for the hours between workshops. A number of facilitators will hold “open space sessions,” which Hippensteele describes as “an opportunity for conference participants to self-organize discussions on hot topics that may not be addressed in our conference’s curated panels and workshops. We know that people are coming to this event to connect, share, and collaborate...and that the wealth of knowledge and creativity in the room must be drawn out and shared in a participatory way.”
Weekend or single-day registration is open at NAMAC's website until 8 pm this Friday, August 21. On-site registration will be available at the Park Plaza Hotel beginning Wednesday August 26.
View the complete conference program and schedule here.