Found History

by Tom Scheinfeldt

Alt-Conference Venues

| 13 Comments

A discussion today on Twitter about the rising costs of conference space, even on campuses, which in many cases charge their own faculty and staff for use of facilities, got me thinking that we humanists should be thinking more creatively about where to hold our gatherings.

The Hilton is nice. But as THATCamp has shown, it’s not an essential (or maybe even desirable) ingredient for hosting a good conference or enabling productive scholarly communication. Just as urban artists find cheap, usable—even cool—studio space in warehouses and garages, we should find ourselves some alternatives to the traditional hotel ballrooms and campus auditoriums.

So, here’s the start of a list. On the one hand, there are some places in most cities that rent space at low cost. In this category, I’d put the YMCA, local churches and synagogues, local public schools, those big suburban wedding halls they advertise on late night cable, and KOA and other campgrounds (hat tip, Brian Croxall). On the other hand, there may be places that are willing donate space that is otherwise unused on weekends. What about asking a local business for use of its offices and providing them with documentation for tax purposes of the in-kind charitable donation? What about asking a local foundation for use of its offices in lieu of a monetary donation?

None of these places will make us feel as important as we do when checking in at the New York Hilton. But they’d all serve just as well for communicating ideas. Please add your ideas for alt-conference venues in comments. Let’s build a list.

13 Comments

  1. Bars. Coffee shops. I’m only half-kidding.

  2. How about National Parks? They wouldn’t be free, but talk about an inspiring location. We’d be working to get back to the great outdoors, albeit in a slightly more literal way than Ian Bogost suggested in his post on the turtlenecked hairshirt.

  3. Local parks departments often have actual buildings as well as park shelters, and they’re crazy cheap. They may need to be booked well in advance.

    Here in Madison we have the quite lovely Gates of Heaven, which would do for a smallish gathering, though networking might be a challenge.

  4. I recall from living in Brooklyn that a Polish social club rented out its space on some nights to rock and/or roll performers. Someone like that (including Masons, Elks, Eagles, Knights of Columbus, Daughters of the American Revolution, ad infinitum) might have good options.

  5. @Amanda– I agree about bars, coffee shops, and restaurants. Some have function rooms, which by Hilton standards, are cheap.

    @Brian– Wow. THATCamp Yosemite sounds pretty nice.

    @Dorothea– Totally. Even if they don’t have indoor spaces, lots of them have pavilions that people rent for family reunion picnics or outdoor concert amphitheaters. Gates of Heaven looks great. In Fairfax, for example, we have Burke Lake Park.

    @Trip– Nice. There are tons of those places and my sense is they’re underused these days.

  6. Libraries of course. They are in every community and open daytime, evenings and weekends. Most have function rooms and many have computer suites. They may charge in some places but if you set up local partnerships and run joint educational or cultural events you can usually get round this. See http://bit.ly/library3rdplace

  7. @Anne– Of course! Thanks!

  8. For THATCamp Austin, the two local organizers asked around at their employers, getting permission to use hallways and classrooms after hours. We ended up using the basement classrooms at one of the buildings at the University of Texas, which worked very well for the break-out sessions. The only caveat I’d add is that it’s very important to check out the wifi connectivity for outsiders well in advance.

  9. I’d also make a pitch for history organizations, many have not only the space, but also explicitly stated in their missions to serve as community forums.

  10. I would also add that even campuses that charge faculty for hosting conferences often will give out space for free to student organizations. I know UW Madison let any student org reserve spaces all over campus. Not only does this provide the potential for a free event space but the idea of partnering with a academic student org also brings several other potential benefits. 1) involvement from grad and undergrad students 2) a more direct engagement with the actual site of the conference and 3) many universities have special budgets to give funding to student orgs. Not only could you get the space for free, the university might kick in money for food and drinks.

  11. @Ben @Bob @Trevor — Many thanks. All great ideas.

  12. Historical societies. They often have meeting space, and are certain to be friendly to history. They usually charge modest fees, and public historians are likely to want to work with your projects.

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