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Conference looks at importance of arts in communities

Last week I went to my first professional conference: the Arts in Our Communities conference in Charleston.

This two-day conference was free to attend, and open to anyone. Judging from the attendees I met, it attracted a mix of artists and arts organizers — or more often, people who are both.

I went for work, for my job as the programming coordinator at the Mon Arts Center. As such, I opted to go for the breakout sessions focused on grants and fundraising. It was sometimes a tough choice though, since other simultaneous presentations sounded very interesting.

I wished I could attend the presentation of a case study on the Scott’s Run project. I know some of the folks involved and would have loved to hear more about the inner workings of the revitalization efforts.

Another that sounded interesting was a case study involving creative aging in a lifelong learning project.

For these, I wished I could be in two places at once, because the sessions I attended were also interesting to me; I wanted to learn more about funding opportunities. The session I most enjoyed was about Mid Atlantic Arts grants.

Mid Atlantic Arts distributes many grants as well as providing programs which combine funding and connecting venues with performers. Learning about all their programming and folklife grants was inspirational — my mind was whirling with possibilities of what we could do in our community.

Interesting as the sessions were, I enjoyed meeting other participants and the presenters even more. I met folks from all over the state, working at a variety of art institutions. I talked to the manager of the Marshal University galleries, representatives from the Foundry Theater in Huntington, of the Wheeling Symphony and many more.

It felt nice to be around so many with similar interests and love of the arts. I heard their stories and shared that of the MAC and the Morgantown-area art scene.

One activity at the conference that I found to be a lovely touch was an incorporation of hands-on art projects on the first day during the lunch break. Three artists set up booths where participants could make their own art.

I opted to try my hand at screen printing. The artist, Lindsay Miranda, had the process all set up with a selection of patterns. She applied the ink and prepped it, all I had to do was pick my patterns, place the paper and help drag the applicator across to spread the ink through the screen. Wanting the full experience, I layered three of the patterns.

Artist Peggy Owens offered a mosaic making experience and Kylie Proudfoot-Payne guided making keychains with embedded tech.

The biggest treat, in my opinion, came on the second day — after the first breakout session and lunch (over which a rep from the state tourism department gave a presentation) we all gathered to listen to some stories.

Story tellers Aristotle Jones and Adam Booth each performed. Story telling has become one of my favorite types of performance art. These talented performers transported me into their worlds, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The conference finished with a screening of “O Pioneer,” a documentary featuring three West Virginians, and Q&A session with the filmmakers. The high quality of the film absolutely blew me away.

Overall, I enjoyed attending the conference. It offered great options for any creative in the state looking for opportunities, networking or to learn more about initiatives and resources across the state.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist using experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email