engage at the seaside

I went to the engage conference from 15 – 17 November.  Entitled ‘Work in Progress: Artists, Education and Participation, it was held at Turner Contemporary and the Winter Gardens in the seaside town of Margate in Kent.  I’d never been to Margate, and was expecting a sad resort, past its heyday, but nevertheless offering signs of hope through the regeneration that I thought would have been brought about through the development of this new David Chipperfield-designed gallery.  I think my hopes were slightly ambitious – there is still much to be done in the way of bringing people back to what could be a thriving tourist resort.  It just needs a bit of tlc and some solid investment.  In this regard, it really reminded me of the Hepworth in Wakefield (same architect and similar environs despite lack of sea).  Although I suppose it was November, so not exactly bucket and spade, donkey riding and ice-cream eating weather.

So – what did I do, see and learn while I was there?  Well, as with most conferences, the highlight was meeting interesting people doing interesting work, developing new contacts and sharing ideas.  So – who did I meet?  In no particular order…

  • Karen Eslea is the Head of Learning at Turner Contemporary.  She’s dynamic, passionate and very inspiring.  She also has an Object Dialogue Box (another post to follow) – Beatrice Prosser-Snelling is the Education Officer who I need to contact about that…
  • I also met people from Nottingham Contemporary including Kay Hardiman (new Head of Learning) who talked about the Klaus Weber exhibition that I must see and also wondered if I could publicise events to the PhD list (or at any rate send her the details)
  • Emma Kay from IKON was interested in finding out more about ODBs (and her mother’s maiden name is Woodall!)
  • Lara Goodband is doing a fantastic SeaSwim project and I hadn’t seen her since engage Yorkshire days
  • Jocelyn Arschavir and Michiko Fuji were there from MAG and also staying in the same hostel which was great – lovely to get to know a bit better
  • Constanze Eckert, an artist from Berlin who recommended the Muzeum der Dinge (not the first time someone has told me to go there)
  • Sally Booth who was interested in sharing Mary Greg’s collection with her visually impaired group from London
  • Ruth Lloyd who I had met years ago on Image & Identity and now manages V&A residencies and does exciting things with objects.  She’s also doing the Leicester MA in Interpretation by distance learning – must go and visit!
  • Ruth Lewis-Jones is at Lakeside in Nottingham and worked with archives and was interested in ODBs too
  • Penny Jones, ex-engage and now freelance was also staying in the same B&B
  • Sarah Campbell and Rosie O’Donovan from Kettle’s Yard
  • I went to the pub with Alicia Bruce who is a Scottish photographer tweeting and blogging about the conference for engage
  • and also Emily Wyndham Gray also from Scotland
  • as well as PhD student Stephen Vainker (doing the Tate/Exeter Artist Rooms research).
  • Kezia Merrick – now at Bedford Arts (was ‘called’ there) – had dinner with her
  • Also saw Lisa Jacques (still at Leicester), Sheila McGregor, Jude Thomas, Veronika Sekules (not to be confused with Katrina Siliprandi who I’d seen in Leeds a couple of weeks earlier and nearly made that mistake!)

There were several PhD students there which was refreshing – including Miriam Craik-Horan who I knew from the Crafts Council and Yanyue Yuan whose object-based research at Cambridge sounds like it will have resonance with my own.  I like engage because it has a rare and refreshing mixture of gallery professionals, freelance educators, teachers, artists, and this strong academic presence as well.  It’s not all about saying how marvellous everything is, but is more critical and self-reflexive.

In addition to my first ever Prezi, it was also the first time I have ever tweeted at a conference: I found it odd to be typing brief quotations from people as they were speaking, but actually rather enjoyed it, not least because people were interacting both from the room, but also from outside…  Anyway, more on the actual content and key questions later.

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