Artistacon is a new art convention that took place just last weekend in Burlington, NJ. Specifically, it is described as:
"A convention for seasoned and aspiring artists celebrating the creative process and the mentor-ship of a new generation."
I knew is that it was being hosted less than an hour from where I lived, so I had no excuse to not to go. And boy, did I enjoy every minute of it!
I needed to write about this new convention. It was founded for reasons very close to my heart. And for those of you South Jersey people like me who have trouble getting into Pennsylvania or New York for their respective art conventions every year, this is one you should really consider just for its proximity alone.
But there's much more to be excited about than just its location. Read up about Artistacon's details at artistacon.org.
I won't get into too many specifics because I don't want to spoil anything. One of the things that really delighted me was the variety of symposiums that there were. There was a talk on self-publishing novels, writing for comics, an open life drawing session, fine art painting demos, photography for illustrators, and even straight-up marketing talks.
In the symposium Creating Exciting Characters, when the audience was asked whether they were artists or writers, most of us answered, "Both!" Artistacon is for the creative person who has many pursuits. If you're a writer, illustrator, or fine artist, you will find something for you at this convention. I can only imagine next year's schedule as the event expands to include more branches of the arts.
Another important strength that this convention has is its refreshing air of casualness. Typically when you go to an art convention where lots of creative people flock, it doesn't feel so casual. It feels, well... schmoozey.
So let me be clear about what I did NOT see this past weekend. I saw no illustrators strictly shopping around their portfolios like they were on a business mission. I saw no autograph lines in front of artists' tables. And I definitely didn't see famous creatives avoiding eye contact or conversations with their admirers.
Make no mistake, all of the standard convention things did happen – well, except for the avoiding eye contact part. Everything was just way more authentic. For example, artists at tables were happy to review my portfolio after we started up a human conversation, such as, "How early did you have to wake up to be here today?" or simply, "Wow, your work is so cool! Which one is your personal favorite?" These artists also gave autographs, but people weren't shepherded into lines with books clutched in their waiting hands. And my favorite part: Artists that I wanted to talk to actually took the time to talk! There was eye contact, smiling, laughing, the whole deal. People exchanging questions. People being people. (Though the charming awkwardness of creatives will live forever and I am proud of it.)
At Artistacon, you are connecting with people that love what you love, and do what you want to do. Or, you're doing the same thing and can just talk about it. You know – like awesome people do.
From a personal perspective, I'm the introvert who likes going to events as other people's shadows. Wag your finger at me all you want, but you can't stop my battery from draining during a big social event. Going with other people lightens up some of that burden, but it comes with a few of its own costs.
Going alone pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me entirely responsible for the connections I wanted to make, and the lessons I wanted to learn. Was I nervous? Sure. But I was pleasantly surprised. With the casual air of the event, I was less wound-up and found that I could actually talk to people who I look up to without tripping over my own feet. It provided a rare occasion for me to be that "social butterfly" everyone expects a business owner to be. Even though we all know that most creative people are just beautiful hermit crabs.
Don't be afraid to go to a convention by yourself, because you just might be surprised. And Artistacon was one of those surprises.
My greatest wish for this convention, as it expands, is to keep its inclusive identity. It is a strong asset, and probably one of the greatest ways to mentor emerging talent.
To make a long story short, Artistacon: Stay cool. Stay inclusive. Stay diverse. You are loved for your ingenuity and mentoring atmosphere and I hope these qualities are always with you. The founders and volunteers who organized this convention worked so hard to make it happen, and it paid off beautifully.
Here's to Artistacon 2017!