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Interview with Barbara Forbes-Lyons

President, Tallahassee Polymer Clay Art Guild

http://polymerclayart.org

How would you describe the Tallahassee Polymer Clay Art Guild? 

The Tallahassee Polymer Clay Art Guild was founded in 2006 by myself and Ellen Rumsey Bellenot after Karen Woods set us up on a polymer 'blind date'. We hold two Retreats a year - on in February and another over the U.S. Labor Day weekend.

Our retreat event, Clay-Bor Day, takes place annually over the United States' Labor Day Weekend. Traditionally, the event is three days but for health and safety reasons we held the 2020 event virtually over two days. The event included demos, show & tell moments, a scavenger hunt, and design challenge with an inchies swap related to the challenge. There was plenty of unscheduled time built in to the schedule so participants could socialize and clay.

image of zoom meeting screenZoom View of the Clay-bor Day Retreat

How was the workshop received by participants? By instructors?

I had scheduled four extended demos by guest artist over the two days of the event, two demos each day. The topics were a mix of techniques including sculpting, imitative finishes or materials, and using liquid clay in a new way.

All the feedback was positive across the board - the attendees were thrilled to learn from the artists, and all the artists were excited to dip their feet into live online teaching. 

What were some of the benefits and challenges of holding a virtual conference?

Benefits

The biggest benefit was the ability to offer attendance to anyone in the world! We had participants all over the United States, plus Mexico and Norway. Truly a global event and a big step for our little guild in Tallahassee. Because we recorded the demos, with the artist's permission, we could post the videos to a private YouTube channel and give the participants to review the techniques and skills that they saw live. We also charged a nominal fee for the event and that allowed us to offer a stipend to the teachers to compensate them for their time. It also covered the cost of the Zoom account, so that was a bonus. We gained a number of new members, too, from areas far outside of Tallahassee. I'd say we increased our membership by 1/3 or more. Because we are holding our events virtually for the near term, and have committed to live-streaming our meetings once we resume in person events, the new members felt the value to them was worth the financial support.

Samples by Diana Lincoln after Amy Sutryn's demo Samples by Diana Lincoln after Amy Sutryn's demo
Samples by Diana Lincoln after Amy Sutryn's demo
Challenges

The challenges were coming up with the overall plans for the weekend - how would we handle questions during the demos? How to insure only registered attendees dialed in? How long should the segments be? The biggest challenge was the Zoom call itself - we had between 45-60 attendees at any one time during the weekend. Spotlighting individuals for show & tell, moderating the public and private chat messages and remembering to turn on and off the recording feature took the combined efforts of two people. Another challenge was finding some prizes for the scavenger hunt. We were lucky to have some generous donors and supporters and it was a boost, I think, to the number of people that participated in the scavenger hunt.

 Maurine Kramerich's Cinnabar InchiesMaurine Kramerich’s iniches based on Randee’s demo

Would the Tallahassee Polymer Clay Art Guild consider offering this format again in the future whether or not we were still in pandemic mode? Why?

I think the Tallahassee Polymer Clay Art Guild would definitely consider this format again. As I mentioned earlier, we are currently meeting on Zoom and plan to stream our meetings once we return to in-person events.

Describe the Zoom opportunities that have continued following the (your conference), how they were conceived and the benefits for participants, both planned and unexpected.

Since the Retreat, the participants have banded together to host virtual clay days every other Sunday. Additionally, several of the participants joined the IPCA and have been attending the weekly Zoom calls hosted by that organization. 

We had a few members from the Queen City Clayers group attend our event, and as a result they invited the Tallahassee guild to attend their September meeting. It was wonderful meeting other polymer enthusiasts.

Is there anything else you would like members to know?

Yes! 

  • The event host needs to have a stable and high speed internet connection and have a solid knowledge of the controls in Zoom or whatever platform is selected
  • Practice with the teachers in advance. We had one teacher that had to relocate her studio to have decent internet throughput, and all of the teachers needed to improve their lighting and camera setups. Not something you want to find out the day of your event.
  • People are willing to pay a fee to attend a virtual event - don't think you have to do this for free in order to have people sign up. We thought we'd have a couple dozen attendees, max. We had 60 plus the 4 teachers!
  • Build breaks into your schedule, but be prepared to leave the meeting open during breaks for those that want to socialize.
  • Make sure you spell out the ground rules beforehand - how to ask questions during a demo, code of conduct, etc. We made sure to use a light tone in our communications to everyone. It made a big difference - the information was accepted in a positive light and with good humor.

Laurie Prevette's Sample Using a Technique Demonstrated by Jana Roberts BenzonLaurie Prevette's Sample Using a Technique Demonstrated by Jana Roberts Benzon

Tags: Fall 2020 Newsletter

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