Visual Resources Association - Annual Meeting - Toronto 2009 (President's Report)

March 27, 2009

Dear VRA Colleagues,

I had ample time during a 17-hour drive from Toronto back to Minneapolis to recall the past week in retrospect, savoring a very memorable VRA Conference 27.  Along with tremendous pride in what we were able to accomplish --especially given the tough economic conditions that worked against us -- I felt a deep sense of gratitude to all of our officers and members who worked
so hard to plan and implement the different aspects of our week together. Your devoted efforts paid off in spades!

Though our numbers were down a bit from previous years, the overall mood seemed to me particularly vibrant among those who gathered in Toronto, though tempered by our anxiety over looming budget cuts and concern for our colleagues who had already felt their sharp impact. This was the background against which we began with the Copyright Plenary held at the Ontario
College of Art and Design, featuring our old friend Kenneth Crews in dialogue with his Canadian opposite number, the equally articulate Pina D’Agostino from Osgoode Hall Law School at Toronto’s York University.  We were joined for their informative dialogue by our guests from the Toronto area: faculty and students from Osgoode Hall, faculty and students from the
School at the University of Toronto, members of the ARLIS Ontario Chapter, area museum professionals, and several Canadian government officials.  Their presence was the result of a special effort to reach out to other constituencies and make them aware of our Association and its work, and it seems to have paid off: the IP Osgoode online law students’ newsletter, for
instance, has already posted coverage of this event.  In the coming weeks, we hope to make a streaming video transcription of the Copyright Plenary available on VRAWEB, especially for those of you who were unable to join us in Toronto.  Video coverage of lighter conference moments will also be provided by the "Toronto YouTubers," a social networking project facilitated by newcomer Carolyn Caizzi.  Watch for further announcements.

A lively post-Plenary reception for our attendees and guests helped to launch a full schedule of sessions, workshops, and special users’ groups that informed us about new projects, tools, skills, and applications.  Among the many special events, several stand out as particularly memorable. Keynote speaker Michael Edson’s inspiring presentation at the Members Dinner
resonated with our members who have for years advocated for greater open access to content, and the collaborative building of a richly-populated commons.  The success of the Vendor Slam, bringing together our members and vendors in a new format, was due to the imagination and flexibility of all participants.  At the Tansey Fundraising Event, Toronto’s famed Second City improvisational comedy troupe encouraged us to take a palliative dose of laughter, even as we stretched our individual comfort zones.   The VRAffle bestowed 72 prizes generously donated by our Chapters, vendors, and individual members, garnering nearly $2500 for future travel awards.  As the VRAudevillians reminded us, virtue will be rewarded and evil will get its
come-uppance – albeit seldom as dramatically as in the rescue of Little Nell from the clutches of Snidely Whiplash by Sgt. Preston and his Trusty Huskies.

A conference of this scope and complexity requires the dedicated and concerted efforts of many people to run smoothly.  Your Executive Board would like to acknowledge all who had a hand in making this past week a great success.  Here are some of the major credits [cue the John Williams score]:

Vice President for Conference Arrangements Brian Shelburne, flashing the Sheraton Golden Badge of Power, worked tirelessly to make hundreds of scheduling arrangements with our host hotel.  Vickie O’Riordan, Vice President for Conference Program, kept track of dozens of events, meetings, and contact people, melding these into a seamless program.  Secretary Jolene
de Verges created our online registration form, and kept the rest of the Executive Board continually informed as our numbers slowly grew during the weeks leading up to the conference starting date.  Treasurer Jane Darcovich worked diligently to keep the budget on track, while having to deal with an ever-fluctuating currency exchange rate.  Public Relations & Communications Officer Mark Pompelia pulled together input from dozens of individuals to generate conference publications and signage, forwarding these in digital form to Toronto for local printing to save on shipping costs.  Tom Costello, our destination consultant, was omnipresent, helping us to anticipate and resolve problems before anyone else was aware of them.  The staff at the Shertaton Centre Toronto genuinely seemed to enjoy hosting us, and were especially sensitive to our schedule and logistics needs. Membership Services Coordinator Lise Hawkos kept the registration desk on an even keel, aided by a large number of volunteer helpers coordinated by Anita Regan and Lesley Bell. 

The local arrangements committee, led by Canada Chapter Chair Eric Schwab and native Torontonian Jackie Spafford, was instrumental in making many of the connections that enriched the conference program, as well as providing logistics support.  They also researched for the conference website information about a myriad of details, from local attractions to weather
forecasts to transit options.   We owe a particular debt of gratitude to Eric for securing facilities at the Ontario College of Art and Design for several key conference events, and we hope that future conferences will be enriched through similar partnerships with nearby educational institutions. Eric’s careful planning and thorough preparation smoothly integrated each off-site event into the flow of the conference program.  Jackie Spafford organized the Tansey Event and made the initial contacts with the Second City company.  Scott Gilchrist coordinated the architectural walking tours, and acted as the Executive Board’s “official” photographer.  The conference logo was designed by Irene Gotz of the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Development Committee Co-Chairs Steven Kowalik and Emy Nelson Decker invested considerable time and effort in planning the Vendor Slam and shaping it to meet the vendors’ needs.  The Birds-of-a-Feather luncheons were organized by Betha Whitlow.  Marcia Focht coordinated the Mentorship program, and was gratified to note that more prospective mentors volunteered
this year than there were mentees available.  The Membership Committee was responsible for the First Time Attendees and New Members Breakfast, where the young professionals who represent the future of our organization had an opportunity to network with their mentors and Association leadership. To top off a memorable week, Empress Patti McRae and her VRAffleRousers (er, VRAudevillians) put it all on the line on behalf of the Tansey fund; every moment of glam represented hours of behind-the-scenes work spent soliciting
donations, documenting donors, organizing and staffing the VRAffle tables -- not to mention rehearsing late into each night while others relaxed at the end of a long conference day.

In this year of shrinking budgets and professional development funding cutbacks, we can take special pride that the VRA was able to make available a record twenty-six full and partial travel awards to assist our deserving members in attending Conference 27. Thanks to everyone whose donations contributed to this outstanding level of support.  Of special note,
Corporate Travel Awards provided by Davis Art Images, Gallery Systems, and Saskia, Ltd. helped make conference attendance possible for deserving applicants, as did the Kathe Hicks Albrecht Travel Award Fund.  We also wish to express our gratitude to our loyal conference sponsors, advertisers, and contributors – some of whom have been our generous friends for many years. Archivision and Two Cat Digital provided major donations to the VRAffle. Michael Edson’s keynote address was sponsored the ARTstor Speakers’ Fund. The VRAffle’s grand prize was donated by Scott Gilchrist of Archivision.

One of the highlights of each conference comes as we honor our peers for their outstanding accomplishments.  Congratulations go this year to Nancy DeLaurier Award winner Loy Zimmerman for his dedication, guidance, and hard work in establishing the Visual Resources Association Foundation, and serving so capably as the first Chair of its Board of Directors.

Thanks as well to all conference attendees, from new members to old guard, whether named heretofore or not.  For a precious few days each year, we are privileged to celebrate our successes, shape our plans for the future, and share our problems and concerns directly with our colleagues, most of whom we know during the rest of the year only as signatures on VRA_L messages. Working and acting together, we have tremendous power to influence our professional environment, and I hope each of you felt that positive energy at work.  In the times of economic uncertainty, we need each other all the more.

Finally, I'd like to give a tip of the Mountie hat and lead a final huzzah for our outgoing Board members who completed their terms of office during the conference: Vickie O’Riordan, Vice-President for Conference Program; and Jolene de Verges, Secretary. Please join me in welcoming our new Board members: Maureen Burns, President-Elect; Heidi Raatz, Vice President for Conference Program; and Marcia Focht, Secretary.

Onward to Atlanta!


Allan T. Kohl
President, Visual Resources Association
Visual Resources Librarian
Minneapolis College of Art & Design
2501 Stevens Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN   55404


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