Why are creative expositions so uncreative? I expect corporate workshops and business expos to be dull. No one challenges them to be interesting, and the status quo keeps most of the itineraries mediocre. But why is the Chicago Creative Expo so boring? The event is organized as many other “expo” type events. Several rooms are filled with 8 foot tables manned by various vendors, organizations, and nonprofit groups. Workshops are given throughout the day, the bulk of which are formatted similar to corporate event presentations: slide screen in front, a speaker at a podium, and Q&A after the presentation. While these arrangements may generate a few conversations or an occasional discovery, it’s tediously conservative considering the target audience.
I brainstormed a few ideas on how to add creativity to the Creative Expo.
- Eliminate unrelated vendors: banks and foreclosed property hustlers are unhelpful in my creative exploration. This is not the place to open an account. Unless a vendor has something specific to the cause: a way to help artists succeed; they shouldn’t be there. If you’re offering checking accounts, or low-rate mortgages, at least provide a creative incentive.
- Give us exciting table vendors: people who work with artists specifically – printers, giclee makers, framers, instrument repair, vocal coaches, etc.
- If you’re manning a table, please talk to me if I’m looking at your literature. Don’t wait for me to figure out what you can do for me from the brochure; tell me.
- Free social media set up: a table offering blog set up, twitter, email – or a workshop where they have tables and you do it yourself with instruction. I’m always surprised at the amount of people who have avoided these free tools. There are plenty of geeky fellow artists who would help.
- Tag the table with symbols representing their area of expertise. A small symbol on the front corner: visual arts, dance, music, voice, theater, funding, space, etc. This would help artists find organizations related to their niche quickly.
- What is with all the candy at the vendor tables? There’s something embarrassing about walking around an expo where each table has a big bowl of candy. Do they think I’m easily swayed by peppermints? Seriously; am I trick or treating, or trying to stimulate my career? How about rewarding me with your outstanding ideas? Lure me to your table with some creativity – show me what you can do for me?
- Punch card: visit a table, have a conversation, get a punch – fill the card, get something valuable like a gift card to Blick. This helps with table mingling.
Workshop and event suggestions:
- Speed networking: A fun and energetic three minute exchange of information so we can meet as many artists as we can during the expo. Have it all morning long in a side room, with a table for cards of people you missed.
- Sessions with a pulse: enough with the workshops on time management, or how to apply for funding. Artists cannot survive these days without being extraordinary. We need motivational, successful artists to stimulate our creative brain; preferably those who discuss making art rather than how to get approval to make art.
- Why is there no performance, interactive exhibit, or art at the creative expo? Ambient noise is a problem for the workshops, but I’m sure they could find some roving illustrators, or create an interactive piece where everyone who attends contributes a little to the work.
- Artist network or “create now” hour-long creative jam session. If you put 200 artists together in a room to create something, something is going to get done. Advertise the results and participants.
Vendors and Sponsors I’d like to see:
- Sharpie, this could be huge for you. Set up a giant wall-o-drawing-paper installation; give us the latest color and size to test out. Or have the crowd draw on Sharpie branded tent cards and put them all over the expo tables. Hand out a coupon for your product and make sure Blick has plenty on hand (especially since Pearl closed this winter – so sad.) We have a team that pitched a very creative Sharpie ad campaign here in town; work with them and make a gi-normous mural.
- More products related to creativity. Moleskin, paint, canvas, pens, writing instruments, music shops, dance apparel, anything that creative people would be excited about. This is a beautiful venue and the tables are cheap.
- Real food: Save the hard candy for the senior expo and get a few of those healthy protein bar folks to sponsor the event.
I could go on and on, but I wanted to make a point. Obviously, I am partial to an event which treats artists as a unique collective of people in our city. There were many helpful organizations present; it’s the format and lackluster approach that I am critiquing here. The current expo functions the same as any general product or service expo. Tables and workshops are fine for home improvement, environmental causes, and business niches. But the plug-in audience model shouldn’t be applied to an artist’s expo if it’s purpose is to benefit the creative population.