Fall Conference: SECAC 2023

Longtime readers who have become familiar with my academic schedule may know that I present at two conferences every year. The choice of conference and the timing may vary, but without fail, I’ve managed to present at two different venues every year since 2019. 2023 has been no exception. In February, I discussed my teaching experiences with “Museums & Crisis” at CAA. Last week, I presented an overview of my dissertation at SECAC. Let’s take a look!

The banner for this year’s SECAC conference.

Previous SECAC Experiences

SECAC is a scholarly organization focusing on art historians, artists, and curators working in the American Southeast. I’ve been involved with SECAC in various forms since coming to William & Mary. I first submitted an abstract to the organization in 2019, but decided not to present at that conference due to scheduling conflicts. During the pandemic in 2020, I presented a virtual paper addressing prints that circulated through the Federal Community Art Center Project. In 2022, I had another abstract accepted, this time for digital art history. I opted to attend ASA instead, since I hadn’t presented there yet.

My interactions with SECAC extend beyond conferences though. Since 2021, I’ve been serving as an editor for online exhibition reviews. This basically means that I read exhibition reviews submitted to SECAC for its online publication portal. I then make recommendations about its potential as a published piece. I don’t get a lot of review work, but it’s something I enjoy doing and it keeps me involved with the organization. I’ve also written a book review for SECAC’s journal, Art Inquiries. That should come out later this fall or early next year.

Like the Space Between Society, SECAC is an organization that’s become an important part of my scholarly life. And with this year’s conference happening in Richmond, it only made sense to present something there.

Preparing my Presentation

Although I’d presented at SECAC before, I hadn’t done anything directly related to the dissertation yet. Generally, when I present on the dissertation, I focus on specific chapters or sections of chapters. I discussed parts of Chapters 2 and 3 at the Space Between conference in 2022, for example. Next year, I’ll share Chapter 5 at CAA.

For SECAC, I opted for a more general overview. I largely did this because I’d been placed into a very full conference session, with five different people scheduled to talk instead of the usual three. Since I knew I’d only have 15 minutes to talk, I decided to keep it broad. Instead of doing a deep dive into one case study, I’d define outreach exhibitions and then describe their general spatial characteristics. This worked out well because I’ve been addressing space more directly in my recent revisions.

Of all the conference papers I’ve given, this one definitely came together the fastest. Between dissertation revisions and job applications, I didn’t have a lot of spare time for tinkering with conference papers. But the practical limitations of time weren’t the only reason for my quick turnaround. I’ve been researching and writing about these shows for years. At this point, it’s not hard to summarize a narrative I’ve come to know well.

This Year’s Conference

I presented at the panel “The Fine Art of Handicrafts.” Topics in this session ranged from embroidery accounts on Instagram to barn quilt trails in rural New York. Initially, I wasn’t sure why I was on the panel, but as the session progressed, it made sense. In one form or another, we were all talking about alternative spaces for viewing art.

Originally, I was only supposed to be a presenter at my scheduled session. The panel’s organizer had to step down though, so another presenter and I agreed to manage the session. Travel difficulties prevented my co-chair from attending in-person, so we opted for a hybrid format. I attended the on-site session and made sure all the technology worked. My co-chair, in turn, read her paper and participated in the Q&A over Zoom.

Unlike the majority of conferences I’ve attended, I did not stay overnight. Instead, I commuted between Richmond and Williamsburg, attending on Friday and Saturday. Since I had other commitments I didn’t attend on Wednesday or Thursday, but I almost never attend all the events at the big conferences.

Conference Reflections

I’ll be honest: between trying to finish my latest round of dissertation revisions and getting ready for our big anniversary trip, I wasn’t all that keen on attending SECAC. If it weren’t for my prior agreement to co-chairing the session, I might have skipped it altogether. I’d already turned down Space Between this year because I didn’t feel like flying to Texas after so recently visiting Roswell though. With Richmond so close by, moreover, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go.

Ultimately, I’m really glad I did. The panel itself was fine, but what I really appreciated were the other sessions I attended. SECAC puts a lot of emphasis on pedagogical panels and workshops, so all the sessions I attended focused on teaching, museum curation, and other aspects of working in the arts. I listened to sessions on ungrading as a teaching practice, and ways to incorporate the museum into university classes. I also attended talks discussing the challenges of maintaining equitable teaching and academic freedom in light of increasingly intrusive right-wing politics in conservative states. Considering that I’m currently on the market for both academic and museum jobs, I found all these sessions engaging and highly relevant to my interests right now.

So here’s to another successful conferencing season. And with Chapter 5 on the docket for CAA in February, it looks like 2024 should be another good year too.

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