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The New Normal


The thing about a town that's called Normal? People who live here get the joke, too. There are t-shirts for sale in shops on the short main street that make puns on the name. Like the one I used for the title of this blog post.

So it's small town, attached to a place called Bloomington. And when you're at a conference in the ballroom of the local Marriott hotel, the event organisers are at pains to tell you the names of all the companies that are headquartered here, the well-known to fairly well-know people who come from here (artist Elizabeth Murray) or who passed through here (comedian Andy Dick, writer David Foster Wallace). You walk around the town and you see that it is indeed, very quiet, very normal. And it has some interesting buildings here and there, like the gorgeous art deco cinema pictured above. Surrounded, of course, by car parks and 1960s university buildings.

Anyway, the conference was very stimulating. 200 creative types from all over Illinois -- artists of all stripes, people from arts organizations, educators, all three in one person -- sat in a giant ballroom and listened to presentations by hotshot graphic designers Bruce Mau and James Goggin, theatre people, a woman who advocated for people with disabilities, the lootenant governor of Illinois Sheila Simon, who turned up to play the banjo and actually had a very nice singing voice. There were two 'breakout' sessions during the day, when you could gather in a smaller room with any of the main speakers to ask questions or start a conversation.

Lots of ideas about creativity were thrown up in the air, mixed in with lots of buzz words like 'innovation', 'change', 'collaboration', 'inclusion'. Sometimes buzz words can be vague and fuzzy -- I thought Bruce Mau really misjudged his audience, and spoke in a lot of generalizations. But sometimes they can be a starting point for a deeper conversation. The best, most inspiring talk was given by Frank Maugeri, who creates public art/theatre/spectacles for the Redmoon Theater group in Chicago. Patty and I also attended a group discussion with other people attending the conference, and had an interesting time talking about the possibilities for artistic collaborations between arts groups and organizations, and between individual artists.

I also handed out loads of my new business cards, which are so shiny and attractive that I'll probably post images from them on this blog soon. So altogether, this was a stimulating and productive way to spend a day. It wasn't really a 'how to' sort of day. But sometimes, it's just as valuable to be in an environment when you're just surrounded by lots of ideas, which you can mull over and apply to your own situation later.


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