NCECA 2018: A Young Artist's Experience

Each year Clay Art Center travels to a new city for a nationwide conference focusing on ceramic art education, known as the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). The conference has a great deal to offer students, young artists and established artists alike including career opportunities, skill building demonstrations and access to top notch gallery exhibitions. For these reasons, the conference can be out of reach for those who have recently completed school and are in a transitional phase of their career as an artist. Clay Art Center is proud to provide our Young Artist Fellow with the financial means to attend this renown conference with the help of grant funding from the Westchester Community Foundation. The Westchester Community Foundation Young Artist Fellowship is funded by the Emily and Harold E Valentine and Evelyn Gable Clark Scholarship Fund. Clay Art Center's 2017- 2018 Fellow was awarded to Dana Reifer, a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and Westchester County native. We are happy to share Dana's experience of NCECA 2018 in Pittsburgh, PA below.

Port Chester Meets Pittsburgh: An NCECA Experience

This March, I found myself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the yearly pilgrimage to the conference organized by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). With a generous grant from the Westchester Community Foundation Clay Art Center was able to provide me with a full conference pass and housing, an opportunity that made the conference both accessible and affordable for a recent graduate. NCECA brings together ceramic artists from across the country, joining together for lectures on various aspects of  ceramic art education, demonstrations by prominent artists, and of course masterfully curated exhibitions. The conference also includes a Exposition Center which hosts ceramic art centers and galleries across the nation, ceramic tool and supply companies, as well as booths for universities and art centers providing artist residency opportunities.

The overall conference theme of 2018 was Cross Currents: Clay and Culture, in an effort to look at diversity and community within the ceramics field. Many exhibitions, lectures, and even casual conversations were identity centered with questions of inclusion at the forefront. NCECA’s own contribution could be seen in the selection of this year’s emerging artists who reflect a spectrum of identities and experiences. This group included two of Clay Art Center’s own: Adam Chau (Program Manager) and Natalia Arbelaez (2016 - 2017 Artist in Resident). As an artist who has spent time reflecting on identity and intersectional social issues, I was particularly interested to see how the conference would address some of the questions surfacing in our country right now.

This trip was also marked my first time at the conference as a professional, and not as a student. As Clay Art Center’s current Young Artist Fellow, I was ecstatic to be displaying and selling work in their Gallery Exposition, alongside well known artists in the field. I participated in the set-up and break-down of our gallery display and gained experience in salesmanship while on the floor. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of inclusion in the Clay Art Center Gallery Exposition was the opportunity to meet individuals who purchased my artwork, as well as artists that I admire in turn. This exchange  led to meaningful conversations and connections that will last beyond the conference. Exhibiting at the Clay Art Center Gallery Exposition at NCECA is an honor and a big step towards establishing myself as a professional ceramic artist.

 Clay Art Center Cup Wall 

Clay Art Center Cup Wall 

 Left to right: Dana Reifer  with Bre Adey

Left to right: Dana Reifer with Bre Adey

I spent time walking through booths, learning about future opportunities, and discussing  projects happening in other art centers around the country. After thinking so much about my future, I was also thrilled to reconnect with my past. Though no longer a student, I got to spend time with other past and present SUNY New Paltz students, as well as my professors Bryan Czibesz and Anat Shiftan.While the field of ceramics is small, artists are often separated by distance, making the opportunity to network with other artists invaluable.  As a tradition, about 30 New Paltz students and alumni gathered at a restaurant for a big family dinner. Despite the celebration of many accomplishments around the table, our brave server became the true guest of honor!

My position as the Young Artist Fellow provides me the opportunity to work closely with the outreach programs offered throughout Westchester County and so I was thrilled to see so many socially conscious exhibitions and talks at the conference. Within that theme was also a lot of discussion about education and the role clay can play in it. One organization that showcased a handful of exhibitions and is dedicated to serving communities in Pittsburgh is the Union Project. Housed in beautiful old church, this arts organization uses clay and ceramic education to bridge the gap in accessibility to the arts for underserved communities in the city. It is centrally located among several communities in-need and acts a common safe space by providing classes, programs, and support to the individuals who live there.

 Union Project Church |  U nionproject.org

Union Project Church | Unionproject.org

I loved seeing so much Ceramic work in such a beautiful and grand space. Gallery’s are great but there is something about unusual exhibition spaces that makes the experience of viewing so much more interesting.

Another excursion I took was to Standard Ceramic Supply. This huge and operational clay/material factory was also featuring several exhibitions on there expansive property. One of these was a series of student exhibitions set up in storage containers, highlighting work from students of graduate programs. Viewing student work from a multitude of prominent schools gave insight into the  types of research and particular aesthetics being explored. A specifically special moment was seeing the finished product of a piece created by Assistant Professor of Ceramics at Tyler School of art, Roberto Lugo, which I helped make while acting as a studio assistant in August of 2017.

 Standard Ceramic Supply INC | Pittsburgh, PA

Standard Ceramic Supply INC | Pittsburgh, PA

Also taking place at Ceramic Supply was a “pop-up raku party” and mobile museum hosted by Detroit organization, Pewabic Pottery. The“Pewabic Street Team” takes raku firing on the road to underserved communities in Detroit and beyond to get people involved in ceramics. I looked around and noticed that sure enough, everything was on wheels from their very cool small kilns to their museum, which took the form of a van. A display featuring the geology of clay, the stages of pottery, and its historical use, is used as a education tool. I was inspired by this outreach model that managed to take a process which is usually confined to a single location, and make it mobile. When they’re not hitting the streets, Pewabic Pottery is a non-profit providing studio space, educational programs, and exhibitions.

Outside Pewabic.jpg
Inside Pewabic.jpg
Inside Pewabic 2.jpg

NCECA 2018 was a wild and wonderful week, full of fascinating people, exciting exhibitions, old friends, and enough inspiration to last me a year.