Kansas City is about to receive a major artistic honor. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the annual conference of National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), and this year the conference is coming to Kansas City. From March 16–19, more than 5,000 people—professional artists, students and teachers, collectors and enthusiasts—will descend on the city to attend workshops, presentations, panel discussions and lectures. But you don’t have to be a ceramics professional to partake in this spectacle. The conference features a number of free events open to the public, not to mention the almost 100 galleries, museums and other organizations that have curated their own exhibitions in coordination with the conference. We caught up with Paul Donnelly, Assistant Professor of Ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute and one of two on-site conference liaisons working on behalf of NCECA, to talk about the many events, artists and organizations involved in this major event.
Kansas City Spaces: What has your involvement with NCECA been?
Paul Donnelly: The conference has two on-site liaison positions—people in the host city that are on the ground, promoting the conference, keeping a line of communication between all the organizations involved and getting everyone on board to participate, mainly through exhibitions or programming. The other on-site liaison for the conference is Amy Duke, who works at the Spencer Museum in Lawrence. I’ve been working on placing exhibitions around the Kansas City area, and she’s helping to coordinate aspects of programming, such as the Randall sessions, which are part of the opening ceremony.
KCS: What aspects of the conference are open to the public?
PD: As part of the opening ceremonies, there are going to be festivities at Bartle Hall in the convention center. Our keynote speaker, Liz Lerman, is going to be giving a presentation on Making Our Work and Making Our Worlds: How Generative Critique Can Help. We’re also going to have Mark Southerland perform with his jazz ensemble for the Randall session, which is named in honor of Ted Randall, one of NCECA’s founding members. This programming is open and free to the public.
In connection with the conference there will be more than 100 exhibitions happening throughout the conference region, which stretches from Sedalia to Topeka. Most of the exhibitions are happening in Kansas City and Lawrence, and most are free and open to the public. The Nelson-Atkins and curator Catherine Futter partnered with NCECA to host an exhibition called Unconventional Clay, which highlights leading-edge artists; the Kemper is curating an exhibition called A Whisper of Where It Came From; the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center is hosting the NCECA’s National Student Juried Exhibition; and the Charlotte Street Foundation is hosting an exhibition called Across the Table, Across the Land that is going to be an exhibition of artifacts from a national outreach program that revolves around concepts of food and ceramics and community. You name the organization—they’re all pretty much hosting something. All the major organizations in Kansas City have come on board to help create exhibitions.
The public can also attend the NCECA Gallery Expo, Projects Space and the K12 Exhibition. The NCECA conference is the type of thing where there’s so much happening that you can’t possibly attend everything. It’s going to be big. We’re expecting about 5,000 registered attendees. But there will be many more people that will come to Kansas City just for exhibitions and to see old friends, and that could bring us up to 7,000. It’s going to be pretty amazing.
KCS: Any local artists in particular to look out for?
PD: Linda Lighton was one of the people who helped bring this conference to K.C. She is receiving the conference’s Outstanding Achievement Award for the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program. Victor Babu is receiving the Excellence in Teaching Award. Dick Belger and Evelyn Craft are also receiving a Regional Award for Excellence for their contributions to the community through the Belger Crane Arts Studio. Anne Bracker and her late husband, Bill Bracker, are also receiving a Regional Award for Excellence. In addition, this is a time to shine for all local artists who are having an exhibition. There are so many that it’s hard to narrow it down!
KCS: How was Kansas City chosen to be the host for the 50th?
PD: This is actually the fourth time the conference has been hosted in Kansas City. But there were individuals here—Irma Starr, Linda Lighton, Doreen Nelson—that put the idea in the board’s head to have the 50th here. It was a no-brainer really. We have a strong art ecology and strong support for the arts. We’re an arts town, really. We also have such a rich tradition of ceramics here in Kansas City that stretches back to Ken Ferguson building the Kansas City Arts Institute’s ceramics program that it seemed really fitting. And it turned out to be really great. So many organizations have come on to support programming and have wanted to be a part of it that a lot has fallen into place naturally.
KCS: For you personally, what has been the best part of helping to organize this event?
PD: One of the things that is very rewarding about this experience is that it drew me very close to the local art community. It’s been an enriching experience to talk to so many gallery owners and patrons of the art. It’s nice to meet people and connect faces to names. I do want to highlight that the conference has been a huge collaborative effort, and I definitely want to say thank you to my home institution of KCAI for being so supportive and helping me with the resources to get this done.