One week ago, Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 2014 was coming to a close. This was the 5th edition of the creative conference which is held in Cleveland, OH. My first experience of the event was last year where I was a speaker. It was transformative. I had been looking for a great conference or other creative gathering for a while, but (outside of Creative Mornings) had not yet found one that felt like a good fit. Frankly, I was tired of clicking the links to the list of speakers when each new event was announced and seeing the same white, male, middle aged faces staring back at me. I had heard good things about WMC and how it had evolved in an inclusive and diverse event. The sense of community and lack of ego was unlike anything I had experienced at this type of event. This wasn't your run of the mill creative conference.
I was obviously thrilled when early in 2014 Jeff Finley and Todd Gauman asked me to be a co-organizer and contribute to this year's event by helping curate the speaker lineup. This was made all the more awesome by the fact that Margot Harrington and I would be working together to bring the lineup to life. I had admired Margot's work for a long while and also how she gives back to the community. To build on the great work done by Joseph Hughes with the lineup for the last 2 editions of the event was a challenge, but one was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Fast forward a few months to mid-August 2014 and I can honestly say I am incredibly proud of what we achieved with the lineup this year. In total, we had 31 people take to the stage (including Margot and myself for intros and Q&A facilitation). Of those 31, only 5 were white, CIS males. That's around 16%. We heard a lot of positive comments from attendees over the course of the weekend. The one thing we did NOT hear from anyone was "I wish there were more white dudes speaking". I think that is telling. Raymond Bobgan who moderated our Gender and Sexuality in Creativity Panel summed it up perfectly when he said "we should be open to hearing stories that are not like our own". I think that's spot on. So often we show up at conferences to hear stories of work done, career paths taken, and points of view that sound like our own. We are talking to ourselves. Using words that make us comfortable and don't necessarily challenge our point of view. And it doesn't take us anywhere new. It doesn't lead to new ways of thinking. If we helped do that last weekend, then we were successful.
Normally after attending an event like this I would pull out my favorite speakers, stories and moments of the weekend. I can't do that this time around as I feel that each speaker brought something completely unique to the table. However, I am particularly proud of our 2 panels. Saturday had a panel of Race and Culture in Creativity and Sunday had the aforementioned Gender and Sexuality in Creativity Panel. These were important conversations to start. Hopefully these conversations continue and we empowered ticket buyers to ask a little bit more of the events they attend in terms of the speaker roster adequately reflecting the diversity of the audience in attendance.
Thank you to everyone that spoke, attended and contributed to an amazing event.