2008 CODA Leadership Conference Report Minimize
NOTE: Michelle is in her 20’s and was encouraged to write about her impressions of the conference, another initiative by CODA to involve young people in craft and administration (Her article has been published on the Crafts Report website). Michelle will be serving on the CODA “Youth Advisory” Committee to meet for the first time during the 2009 conference.
$14 Billion: What the CODA Conference is Doing to Make that Number Grow?
Michelle Sholund 2008
In 2000 the Craft Organization Directors Association (CODA) released the first ever economic impact study of crafts on the national economy. The survey found the once invisible craft industry is now responsible for earning $14 Billion. CODA , an international non-profit organization, is at the forefront of providing topical and innovative information and resources to craft organization leaders. The 10 year anniversary of that survey is near and you would be surprised at what CODA is doing to increase that number.
CODA is well known for its yearly conference which attracts leading professionals to discuss new ideas, learn, and network with peers providing an overview of national and state trends and opportunities for economic development. The 2008 conference held in Little Rock, AR focused on Creating Craft Consumers, Collectors and Leaders – something I am always looking to learn more on and just knew I needed to attend.   The experience, aside from being greeted by tornadoes on the first day of the conference, was beyond amazing. The information gained is not something to keep to yourself, but share with others in the craft field. The three day event included presentations, an award ceremony recognizing Robyn and John Horn for their leadership, creative thinking and outstanding service, art walks and more. The highlights of the event are as follows:
Aside from round table lunch discussions, receptions, and the art walk the best networking experience was utilized during the Peer Sessions. Individuals had the opportunity to work in a think tank like atmosphere in groups relating to Guild/Membership Organizations, Craft/Art Schools/Education Programs, Museums/Galleries, Festivals and Shows, and Public Service/Government Agencies. The Festivals and Shows group, which I participated in, discussed issues concerning show attendance, initiating buyer retention, and patron development. An emphasis on creating an authentic experience with customers, encouraging and highlighting artists who do hands on demonstrations, developing magazine style programs for advertising and buyer retention purposes, and including discount admission coupons in ads were just some solutions the group came up with.
From other peer groups, great ideas arose. The educational group felt that marketing to people through non-traditional avenues focusing on health, wellness and tourism needs to be explored more and work more towards funding social programs. People in the craft exhibit/gallery group discussed involving more youth members using interactive elements and create newer exhibits that involve motorcycles, opera costumes, and cultural issues. Those from the government agencies group suggest partnering up with similar organizations (who share in common goals) to assist in funding efforts, giving assistance to educational scholarships, and work more with art and craft trails for development and collaboration possibilities.
Guest Speakers
Robert Duncan, collector and keynote speaker, discussed how each person is a collector starting with baseball cards and figurines leading to paintings and other art forms. He continued on by mentioning places where average collectors go to find artful objects such as craft shows and antique stores, a behind the scene look into working with artists, helping artists in need, and sharing his collection with galleries and museums. Duncan firmly believes collectors, like himself, can easily become leaders by sharing their collections, inviting students to learn from the collections, and support art institutions. 
Doug Stowe, woodworker, author and educator spoke on the subject of Wisdom of Hands. The program is designed to integrate woodworking activities with other areas of curriculum in schools to increase interest and excitement regarding art. As art programs in schools are being cut, this program is very effective in getting not just 1st graders and 2nd graders to appreciate the arts, but their parents and their community too. Through woodworking these young students are learning that knives are tools, not weapons like in video games.  Students can't wait to do their home work such as practicing cursive once they learned how to make their own pens in woodworking shop. The students are learning fractions, geometry, economics and other math skills through the items they made in wood shop, as well as geology and art through making looms. It's evident though Stowe's presentation that a hand and brain learning relationship is key to get more people to understand and appreciate handcrafted art.
Lynette Jennings, marketing consultant and founding director of Eagleheart Center of Art and Inquiry  talked about marketing and promoting your craft organization. If there is one thing to take away from the presentation it is this: language. The message, you wish to convey, must be delivered to grab the audience’s attention and be like a conversation between two people whether it is a press release going out to the public or an interview with a local news program. Jennings addressed the importance of basic public relation skills such as not to underestimate the audience's knowledge, prioritize the message, and clearly identify a call for action. The topic of marketing and trends was very enlightening because when you look at over-all trends, no one really knows what they truly want. The public does, however, want to be told how to feel or look to others to learn how to feel good about themselves. Art councils, agencies, galleries and even craft artists can capitalize on this. Get involved in the Go Green movement, offer money saving initiatives, and integrating hands on educational opportunities are all ways each person can do more and earn more in the name of craft/art.
CODA's Plans for the Future  
Each year the CODA conference reinvents itself all in the name of craft/art. Plans are in the works for updating the 2000 CODA survey and its expected release date is 2011.   The new survey is expected to encompass an even bigger population of art professionals. 
The 2009 CODA conference will occur in St. Paul, MN with the focus on Crafting Partnerships For Growth:   Creating Connections. Future attendees can expect topics covering computers, technology and the Internet in developing better relationships in the craft world and beyond.   Attendee Jennifer of the Northern Tier Cultural Alliance (www.ntculturalalliance.org) stated, “The CODA Conference has become a conference that I look forward to every year. With the work that our organization is doing, the networking and chance to share ideas and experiences is invaluable." Through CODA's efforts , it is clear with each growing conference, many are expecting bigger numbers as a result in next survey proving the craft industry is not invisible any more.    

To learn more about CODA, take the time to visit www.codacraft.org and read up on their efforts including more details about the 2008 conference. 
Michelle Sholund is a MD freelance writer, crafts person, and promoter. 

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