The first event of the annual NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conference is always the Gallery Expo on the Tuesday evening before the program begins. Ceramics galleries and clay centers are set up in booths near the retail exhibit hall and it is a feast of functional pots, plus some sculptural work.
There are cash bars set up and it is the time to ease in to the meet and greet that is at the heart of the conference. This conference attracts all those who are interested in the ceramic arts: potters, sculptors, installation artists, performance artists, collectors, gallerists, writers, curators and most of all, students. My first NCECA was when I was in my last year of my undergraduate studies, 1992, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US. That even was attended by more than 1500 attendees and it was overwhelming. This year, 5200 are preregistered so that almost guarantees that there will be more than 6000 in attendance.
The many and varied programs run simultaneously so that every hour all day Thursday and Friday, there are choices to be made about what to see and who to hear. There are demonstrators, panels and lectures on current topics, as well as exhibitions.
The location of the conference changes from year to year, spanning the contiguous states as well as possible. There is a theme for each year’s conference and exhibitions in which the artists explore that theme. Each year, there are about 100 exhibitions in the host city and the surrounding communities. This year we are in Pittsburgh and it will be no exception.
The K-12 exhibition is one of the highlights each and every year. Interested K-12 teachers lobbied NCECA for years for space within the conference venue to hold an exhibition of works by those in primary and secondary schools. This grass roots effort maintained by dedicated individuals eventually culminated in a new not-for-profit organization that is focused on the K-12 ceramics students and classes. I can’t say enough about the way that dedication led to success in this case. Each year, the organizers secure a juror for the nearly 1500 entries of ceramics works by students from kindergarten through high school. These committed adults have secured awards and scholarships for students selected through the annual exhibition. This year, for the first time, a full New York State College of Ceramics (Alfred) scholarship is being awarded to a deserving high school senior (grade 12) through work in the K-12 exhibition. Alfred joins others who have awarded scholarships in the past and we can only envision that this won’t be the last.
My purpose in mentioning this is that many ceramics programs have been cut back or cancelled in colleges and universities throughout the world. Many students internationally do not have the opportunity to touch clay in their primary and secondary art classes, meaning that (in those areas) students don’t go to institutions of higher learning with the idea that they want to do ceramics. This grass roots effort by a handful of dedicated teachers and others have helped to perpetuate the love that we have for this versatile, responsive and expressive material that we all love. How can this effort be replicated worldwide?
This issue will be in your hands by the time Clay Gulgong is beginning. Having served 10 years on the NCECA Board of Directors, I am aware of the monumental task undertaken by the organizers of Clay Gulgong and other conferences held in other years. It is no small task but its perpetuation, like that of NCECA and the K-12 exhibition, is paramount to the international field of ceramics.
Next year the NCECA conference will be in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US and it will be held in the last week of March. It, too, will begin with the Gallery Expo on Tuesday evening. Collectors (and all of us) will be perusing the new work in the galleries and selecting a few treasures to take home. It never gets old to meet and greet old and new friends or to learn more about the field of ceramics.
I will see you at Clay Gulgong and maybe at another conference somewhere in the world.