From ATHE President Josh Abrams, November 2019
Thursday, November 14, 2019
I find myself watching the leaves change outside my window and wondering how another year has passed so quickly. I’m very excited by all the proposals we’ve received for the Detroit conference and look forward to seeing that all pull together. As you likely saw, we opted to reopen the conference call briefly after the initial deadline, as we received a number of requests from people adversely affected by situations outside of their control, including the evacuations and power problems from the massive fires in California. All of our members who have been in touch seem to be alright, thankfully, but we felt it was best to reopen to provide a possibility for people to submit proposals in those instances.
I’ve just returned from the ASTR Conference in Arlington, Virginia, where I had some very productive conversations both with members of the Governing Council and some individual ATHE members. Thanks to those of you who found me to make suggestions and ask questions. We held an open “Field Conversation” with some of the participants from the January Summit of Organizational Presidents that ATHE hosted. In addition to myself, the participants in Virginia included ASTR’s Marla Carlson, MATC’s Beth Osborne, SCUDD’s Kate Newey, LMDA’s Martine Kei Green-Rogers, and AAP’s Jennifer Goodlander. In addition, both Dance Studies Association’s Melissa Blanco-Borelli and Theatre Library Association’s Francesca Marini were both present and have joined the summit’s online discussion group. There was an audience of about 15 attendees, most of whom have attended other conferences (including ATHE in many cases), and we held the session as an open conversation, asking people about their histories of conference attendance, key concerns and issues, and what they look for both from organizations generally and differentially from specific organizations in the field.
There was a general sense from most of the attendees that these organizations are where they have “found their people” and that continued attendance and presence remains personally and professionally important. However, and this will come as no surprise to most, the cost of conferences remains a significant boundary. There’s a worthwhile article (semi-ironically behind a paywall) about this in the most recent Times Higher Education, with the suggestion from a professor of business and governance at Tokyo’s Waseda University that “There are the haves and the have-nots. If you’re cashed up, you get the opportunities to meet people, make connections, improve your knowledge, engage with people as research subjects. [If you] can’t afford to participate you’re dependent on web-based shares. You’re simply not part of many of the interesting conversations (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/steep-conference-fees-exclude-academics)." We continue to look into possibilities to reduce costs and offer more cost-effective options to enable all of the “interesting conversations” we wish to have.
There was a great deal of discussion about how we might consider possibilities such as joint conferences (and/or joint memberships), as well as discussions about how livestreaming could be productive, but also limiting. One attendee requested, and it was broadly agreed that it would be good to develop, a glossary of organizations and important things for prospective members to know. We agreed to share and update the detail of related organizations currently hosted on the ASTR website, linking to it from websites for other organizations. There was also a discussion of services that members don’t always realize are available within each organization—calls for member news, updates about membership, etc., and we agreed to look into ways to ensure that communication is better across organizations. There was a request for a push for publicly available teaching resources: for instance, we could use our collective voice to build a database of Creative Commons licensed production images for use in the classroom. ATHE’s focus group model was also singled out for the shared community that it can foster.
This event was very positive, and we’ve discussed the possibility of hosting a further summit around the MATC conference in Chicago next March. Our online forum continues to be lively, and we are discussing the possibility around a joint membership survey across a number of organizations in the spring in order to push some of these questions further, ensuring that we each continue to best serve our particular membership, while providing service and advocacy to the field at large.
Once again, I look forward to hearing from you with your ideas for ATHE as an organization and the ways that we can support you and the field. Please feel free to write to me at president@ATHE.org.
All my best,