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7 Suggestions for the Next Superscript Arts Journalism and Criticism Conference

Conference co-organizer Susannah Schouweiler moderates a discussion during the "Sustainability, Growth, and Ethics" panel at Superscript. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Conference co-organizer Susannah Schouweiler moderates a discussion during the “Sustainability, Growth, and Ethics” panel at Superscript. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reflection posts by the three participants in the Superscript Blog Mentorship program, for which Hyperallergic partnered with the Walker Art Center to provide guidance, editing, and publishing opportunities to emerging arts writers at the #Superscript15 conference (May 28–30).

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Superscript, a first-of-its-kind conference about arts journalism and criticism in the digital age, hosted by the Walker Art Center, was full of illuminating moments about the labor of writing. But it also left some things to be desired.

If the folks at the Walker are planning for future iterations, here are some suggestions:

1. Fewer lectures, more dialogue

(via gifbuffet.tumblr.com)
(via gifbuffet.tumblr.com)

Now, there were several superb presentations — including The New Inquiry editor-in-chief Ayesha Siddiqi’s (*swoon*), LA Times staff writer Carolina Miranda’s, and futures editor at Motherboard and Terraform Claire Evans’s — but the Q&A sessions were the richest part of the conference. More of these, please.

2. Connect with cyberspace convos

(via digitalloop.tumblr.com)
(via digitalloop.tumblr.com)

Superscript panel discussions were mostly disconnected from online discussions, which was unfortunate; the conference was, after all, about criticism in the digital age. While it was amusing to see Twitter questions handed to the moderators like paternity results on the Maury Show, Twitter could have been better used to guide the Q&A. An onstage social media moderator is worth considering.

3. Ask questions online

Further leveraging Twitter energy seems like a worthwhile endeavor. How about posing questions to IRL and virtual viewers? Think Al Jazeera’s series The Stream, where moderators connect with online commentators. One question I wanted answered is: what alternative forms of compensation are nonprofit and volunteer-run groups providing for writers? Why not use Twitter to find out?

4. Manifest diversity

Superscript wasn’t very diverse, as has been pointed out a bunch on Twitter and Facebook (and by a fellow participant in the Superscript Blog Mentorship Program, Merray Gerges, in one of her blog posts). Any discussion of arts journalism and criticism in the digital age should include marginalized voices, especially because digital media, as @AdrianneRussell pointed out, often amplifies them. Some of the best criticism happens under or off the mainstream radar. And would it be hard to include critics living in other countries via Google Hangout or Skype? The conference would have benefited from the inclusion of international perspectives.

5. Make it financially accessible

(via whatshouldglotzbachcallme.tumblr.com)
(via whatshouldglotzbachcallme.tumblr.com)

Representing the future of the profession not only involves getting diverse writers, curators, and educators onstage but also to the conference. For some people, $200 isn’t exorbitant (especially if your employer is paying), but it is for many young writers. This could mean a different approach to ticket pricing: Maybe a general rate and a student rate? Or a sliding scale to defray other attendance costs? If the conference hadn’t been practically in my backyard, I wouldn’t have been able to go.

6. Let’s talk anti-profit

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be a full-time art critic, but some people want to know what it’s like. I would have loved to see a practical panel about living as a writer, especially in the Midwest. Carolina Miranda gave some great advice, like how important it is to negotiate pay, a topic young emerging writers would surely like to hear more about. I’m reminded of a book edited by Minneapolis-based artist and conference attendee Sharon Louden: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists. It would have been great to see her on a panel.

7. Step up your food game

(via fuckyeah-catz.tumblr.com)
(via fuckyeah-catz.tumblr.com)

@NegativeJams said it, and I’ll say it again: an $11 burrito that you had to fold yourself?! Might I add that the salsa was shamefully mild, too? I can think of five things better than a pricey DIY burrito bar: a fleet of food trucks, anything on a stick, the uniquely Minnesotan Jucy Lucy, something with Spam (just kidding!), or a tater tot dish. Oh, and try for more of those afternoon dessert bars; in a Superscript blogging haze @MerrayRayRay found them “life-changing.”

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