The Importance of Connecting: Small Group Discussions in the Era of Covid

by Kate Nixon


Long before the word “Zoom” found its way into typical discussion, the community that looks forward to making their annual vacation to the Grove Park Inn for the National Arts and Crafts Conference and Shows would make time to gather in a small room or anywhere there was a chair and passionately discuss furniture, textiles, pottery and other precious objects during the Small Group Discussion sessions.

These sessions sprang from the desire of conference attendees to ask questions of seminar speakers and other experts in their field, since it became impractical for speakers to address their large audience following their presentations. After attendees Bill and Patsy Porter suggested separate discussion groups, that idea became an annual tradition where we make use of GPI’s meeting rooms where like-minded individuals discuss their favorite topics.


So, when faced with the sobering reality that we as a large group would not be allowed to gather last February without risking the health of several members of our group, it was upsetting to many, including those who found out first – myself and Bruce.

Despite this raincloud feeling, we would not let that stop us from connecting last February as we have every year, especially considering the popularity of these small group discussions. At the time, we determined, due to the popularity of online meetings, the Zoom environment is where we would need to hold our Small Group Discussion sessions to continue what we did best: our conversations, our connections, our need to educate and be educated.


A Gallery view of participants during a Small Group Discussion at the virtual 2021 National Arts and Crafts Conference & Shows.


As the moderator of these events, someone who scheduled the Zoom links, organized and walked leaders through the Zoom environment, monitored the chat room, made the sessions available on the Video on Demand page, and tried her best to handle the technical problems in the moment, my typical day in February was an experience for sure.

It was also the first time I’ve experienced the small group discussions at the conference since I was always managing the registration desk in the Sammons wing or behind the admission desk at the shows. I was able to see, hear, and be part of the lively discussion in real time – a first for me. For those of you who have not yet attended a conference, this past February saw an average of about 50-55 in these Small Group Discussions over Zoom, where we would see leaders in their house or gallery surrounded by their precious collections, their wares, and even their framed conference posters! We saw the working space of Dianne Ayres of Arts and Crafts Period Textiles during her “Window Treatments” session, a room of Arts and Crafts chairs and furniture hosted by N. Gordon Gray during his presentation on “Fakes, Forgeries and Repairs,” a warehouse of gorgeous textiles from Paul Freeman, a live printmaking demonstration from Laura Wilder, and at least 20 other sessions.


N. Gordon Gray discusses fakes, forgeries and repairs to furniture over Zoom during a small group discussion session at the virtual 2021 National Arts and Crafts Conference & Shows.


Patti Bourgeois discusses collecting Japanese Woodblock prints over Zoom during a small group discussion session at the virtual 2021 National Arts and Crafts Conference & Shows.


Sandie Fowler shows a favorite reference book about Arts and Crafts tiles over Zoom during a small group discussion session at the virtual 2021 National Arts and Crafts Conference & Shows.


But what made these sessions so special to those who were there was that for the first time for so many, we got to see inside each other’s houses, where people got to show their chairs, their pottery, their room design, their precious collections, and get immediate feedback in the moment. First timers got to know longtime attendees and those everyday connections were a lifesaver for those kept inside from the extreme winter weather – and the community grew and strengthened during the long wintry month of February.


As we look to August with a few exciting topics already scheduled, we’ve got the space for more discussion topics, so please let us know if you have an idea for a discussion topic. We’d love to hear your ideas! Please email us right away at [email protected]!


Bruce and I thank you all for your continued support and look forward to seeing you – either online or hopefully in person in February!