By Elissa Papendick
I arrive at 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning for training, which in reality amounts to a two-minute explanation of my tasks for the day. I will be a room monitor, assisting with career development mentoring sessions. Settling in at the table, I meet my co-room monitor, Sarah, a current graduate student at University of Wisconsin, studying printmaking. She went to SAIC for undergrad, spent four years teaching art in Chicago high schools and is interested in book arts. I am in good company.
At 8 a.m. conference attendees start trickling into the Hyatt, a maze filling two towers with rooms titled after locations around Chicago. It is possible to stay inside the Hyatt all day (and in fact I stayed confined within its walls for 15 hours), yet one travels between rooms with names like Wrigley, Gold Coast and the Water Tower, as if it were possible to sight-see within the sterile, impersonal environment of the hotel.
Impromptu Information Booth
Frenzied, frantic guests approach the table; I quickly become of more use giving directions than monitoring the career development sessions. I am not working at an information table, but I immediately find myself directing one woman to the correct room for the session on Brazilian art. I rapidly learn where Wrigley, Comiskey, Water Tower, Picasso and Columbian are located, that “SEP” stands for “Student and Emerging Professionals,” and how to get to the East Tower without going outside.
Unwittingly, I have become an Information Booth. The bombardment continues: “You should really turn on the AC.” “Could you please tell me where the lights are?” “How do I get transcripts from the sessions?” “I am a member but don’t have my registration information with me.”
Clearly there were many confused attendees in need of assistance. Perhaps better signage and actual information booths would ameliorate this problem.
State of the Job Market
The popularity of the career mentoring sessions, along with the number of conference attendees desperate for career counseling, confirmed what we all already know: jobs are scarce.
Hopeful job seekers stopped by at least every half hour, trying to weasel their way into the schedule for one-to-one speed-counseling sessions with career mentors. With up to eight mentors trapped in New York due to the weather, demand for a session far exceeded the number of invited professionals. The ones who were lucky enough to score a 20-minute session left elated, thanking us for the service and granting accolades to the mentors.
CAA without New Yorkers
Perhaps most interesting is the effect the East Coast snowstorm had on this year’s CAA Conference. A conference organized by a New York institution with so few New Yorkers in attendance, particularly when that city is deemed the center of the art world, is an ironic situation.
Regardless, in the Second City, CAA continued without delay. Some CAA staff managed to evade the weather and descend on Chicago, but most were not so lucky. Several career mentors and panel speakers were absent.
Working at the career development table gave me free admission to the conference, but was a trade off, as it also meant missing those eight hours of the conference. With the conference squished into three days, time was precious. In the end, the time I lost for free admission probably wasn’t worth it.
Will I become a member and pay next year? Most likely. Will I sit behind a table? Nope. Hopefully, only behind a podium.