Maintaining the Post-Conference Euphoria

Posted by Deb Vaughn, Mar 15, 2011 0 comments

Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

One of the big pieces of my job as a state arts education coordinator is to, well, coordinate.

And it’s one thing to bring people together face-to-face (although there are certainly challenges: travel expenses, coordinating schedules, finding an agreeable geographic location, how much food to order from the caterer, etc.).

But it’s another thing entirely to connect people when they can’t meet face to face.

Three years ago, the Oregon Arts Commission started convening a yearly Arts Education Congress. The first gathering took place right after the 2008 general election, when the spirit of grassroots political action was high.

We invited people from all sides of the arts education Venn diagram to serve as voluntary delegates at this event, looking forward to dialogue with people who dipped their toes in the arts education pool from all different angles.

The event was a success, with representatives from public schools, community organizations, parent groups, funders and policymakers. The work that day resulted in a “Declaration of Creative Rights” drafted by one of Oregon’s premiere poets, but there was no way to keep the excitement tangible after the last delegate departed the conference center.

The challenge was how to maintain the level of connectivity that comes from a really great round-table conversation or a really inspiring keynote once everyone returns to their home base.

Teleconferences are fine, but clunky for large groups. Webinars are informative, but one sided. Facebook is heavily used, but scattered at best.

Nothing really seemed to capture the energy we were looking for. But then we got an idea.

The second year the Congress convened, we played hardball.

Using a strategic email marketing campaign, we doubled the number of registered delegates in the room.

Two months prior to the event, we launched an online forum. We initiated theme-based dialogue before the event, used college student volunteers to post live updates during the event and offered a Congress registration discount to those who signed up for the forum.

We saw a huge spike in usage of the forum site during immediately before, during and just after the event.

We were able to create a ready-made online community, ready to engage in dialogue. A sort of social network with instant buy-in.

Since then, we’ve seen a consistent use of the online forum to maintain connectivity and we have continued to leverage it during subsequent Congress gatherings.

The site has been around long enough that it is now due for some updates  (like any online resource, it is constantly evolving), it remains a valuable “virtual round table” throughout the year, allowing our arts education community to ride their conference euphoria as long as their neurons can stand it.

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