Thursday, June 17, 2010

CSA Symposium 2010 Criticisms - Do You Agree?

I've been non-stop traveling since getting back from the the Costume Society of America's National Symposium, so pardon my erratic posting schedule. Future posts will include inspirations from these trips, but I wanted to address some things I hope will help those interested in attending next year's symposium. I've been in talks with many of the CSA big-wigs so improvements are definitely in the works. And despite these little criticisms, I am actually very much looking forward to next year's conference.

Things I learned:

-I found it very hard to locate and socialize with fellow students. There is so much we can learn from each other - ways to improve existing programs, exchanging current research interests, even discovering the specialties of their university collections. I also know that student attendance was lower than normal, not only for the symposium but for CSA membership as a whole. This was a concern addressed to me by several CSA members, so it is good to know that they recognize the problem and are working on a solution.
  • How to fix this: there needs to be a student committee of some sort. One of the CSA's main goals is to garner new student membership. This can only be done if there is a proactive group dedicated to recruitment and student-related events. Most other organizations have student liasons, and CSA should be no exception. It would be great for next year's conference to have some more student meet-and-greets and excursions. It would also be a great place to mediate student's concerns and needs.
-The cost of this conference was inappropriate for these economic times, and definitely not student friendly. This was a major deterrent for many people, who wanted to come to the conference but could not justify the price tag.
  • How to fix this: the cost of the conference basically pays for the use of the venue, along with breakfasts, two lunches, your chance to hear wonderful research and some additional activities. It did NOT include transportation to/from the venue, additional meals, and accommodations, or cultural activities. So it is easy to see why people would decline attending, especially if they are struggling to make ends meet as it is. This can be remedied with a few changes in comfort - find a cheaper venue, with cheaper catering, in a location that is accessible and close to a cultural center. The perfect combination of all these things? A college campus. Housing could be offered in the dorms (most make their students vacate by the time the conference is scheduled) or at a nearby hotel with a shuttle service (for those who seek comfort over quality). Not to mention, it would be a great way to see the campuses and collections of sponsoring cities, because many of the presenters are professors and local museum curators.
-In my opinion, it is only worth investing in this conference if you are presenting a paper. Although the research exhibition component is important, participants get hardly any face time because they are placed at the end of the conference, when most people are either leaving or attending concurrent sessions. Also, the annual meeting ran late, giving us only about an hour to discuss our work with those few who were interested in checking out the research exhibitions. I'm glad I got the opportunity to "present" but the amount of time and effort spent on putting it all together didn't feel worth it without criticism from attendees.
  • How to fix this: have the posters up for the entire conference, with special discussion times throughout the schedule. Most events ended at 6pm, there is definitely a lot of time for short chats. The few people who came to the research exhibitions seemed to enjoy the content, and I'm sure that the ones who left would have liked an opportunity to see and discuss them as well.
-I could do without Kansas City. The city's layout was very disjointed and there is virtually no public transportation, making outside excursions costly and time-consuming to plan.
  • How to fix this: although regional fairness must be considered, it would have been helpful to have had a tour of the city as an activity, or even a packet of notable sites, places to eat, go dancing, etc. The next two conferences will be in Boston and Atlanta, so attaining these goals will be a little easier. This is not merely a youthful response, either; I ran into many older attendees who wanted to go out, but had no idea as to where to go.
For those of you who attended the conference, do you agree/disagree with any of my statements? What do you think were the highs/lows of this year's conference? The members I have been talking to are very concerned with how to improve future symposiums, and all questions and comments are welcome!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brief Course of Events - CSA National Symposium 2010

I wanted to give a brief write-up of the Costume Society of American's Annual Symposium, for those of you who were unable to attend. Overall, I'm very pleased to have been in Kansas City for the conference; I met a lot of great people, and had a lot of stimulating conversations with professors, curators and dress enthusiasts. You can read more about who presented and the topics discussed here.

Wednesday, May 26th:
My first taste of the symposium began with the opening reception. I recognized very few people, but was able to meet and greet the likes of Anne Bissonette and the legendary June Burns Bove, as well as chat with some first timers about their goals, schooling, job offers, etc. I met up with Monica Sklar (editor of the blog WornThrough) after the award ceremony, and talked fashion studies with some really cool ladies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who run the Fashion Resource Center. I was inspired by their school's promotion of contemporary fashion and encouragement of their students to touch, drape, and interact with their extensive collection. Something to think about, for future endeavors...

Thursday, May 27th: After breakfast, the juried paper sessions began. I especially liked seeing Monica Sklar's (University of Minnesota) presentation of her research on punk dress in the workplace. She provided a great model for future dress studies, and her presentation layout was also eye-catching and effective. I also really enjoyed an analysis by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on a French Revolutionary-era gilet (vest/waistcoat). She presented a lot of interesting research on the fascinating tongue-and-cheek designs of bourgeois fashion.

I also attended a professional development seminar based on utilizing primary sources other than extant garments for research purposes. I was interested in this seminar particularly because I do not have access to many existing garments pertaining to my interests. It turned out to be a really enlightening seminar, where attendees shared their knowledge as well as their desire to have researchers come to their institutions. I was glad to hear this, because I've been a bit jaded by the near impossible access to collections in New York City. The fact that there are museums and historic societies that are dying to have people come research their garments makes me feel better about my chosen professional (aka I thought we had to keep our treasures under lock-and-key).

Friday, May 28th: Although I missed out on the Teaching Dress History discussion panel, I was able to catch a few more paper sessions such as Nadine L. Stewart's (FIT) Master's thesis on Millinery life and Clarissa Esguerra's extremely thorough analysis of a dress in LACMA's collection that had been made in the 1830s and then refashioned in the 1840s. I was very impressed by how she was able to recognize the patterns and cuts of the dress and draw her conclusions based on its construction.

After lunch I sat in on a concurrent paper session, where I was able to hear Katalin Medvedev's (University of Georgia) field research on grassroots fashion development in Cambodia. It was wonderful to meet her because she has done similar work regarding Communist dress in Hungary. Also during this session were enlightening presentations on progressive fashion photography of the 1930s and 1940s, wardrobe stylists who use original craft techniques for period films, and a biographical "introduction" of Muriel King, a 20th century designer that had been the focus of a senior exhibition at FIT in 2009.

Saturday, May 29th: The day started out with the Stella Blum Student Grant awardee's paper presentation. Katie Knowles, a PhD student at Rice University, did extensive research pertaining to slave clothing in the United States. I was very impressed by her knowledge and the amount of research she was able to uncover because there are so few slave garments available. It was also nice to hear that many of her items came from the Charleston Museum (thanks for helping her out, Jan Hiester!). This grant was definitely well deserved, as "plain" clothing is vastly under researched and hard to find in museum collections.

Then came the research exhibitions. I must admit, this was probably the most disappointing part of the entire symposium, even though I was presenting. First of all, the annual meeting ran 15 minutes over schedule, and we only originally had about an hour an a half to display our work. Secondly, they placed the session on the last day, when many people leave the conference. The session also ran concurrently during a seminar hosted by June Burns Bove on dressing mannequins, and come on, you can't compete with Ms. Bove! She's just so fabulous. I was able to interact with a few members who graciously stopped by, but in the end I felt like I had put in a lot of effort for very little face time.

Attending this year's symposium made me excited for future CSA events. I look forward to next year's conference in Boston, where I plan on presenting a paper on Douglas Millings, as well as possibly hosting a professional development seminar. My next post will discuss specific critiques of the symposium, as well as new suggestions (from both peers and myself) that may benefit the promotion of the CSA's goals and future endeavors.