For the past 33 years, the National Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn has been a major part of my life. My oldest son was born just three months after the inaugural Arts and Crafts Conference, and my youngest the month after our fifth annual meeting at the Grove Park Inn. Both of them grew up working at the conference — and seeing how much it meant to me and many of you.
Over the course of these past 33 years, the Arts and Crafts Conference has grown from 300 people to nearly 3,000. We have gone from 30 exhibitors to more than 100, many driving across several states each February to get here.
We were fortunate to have been able to gather last February at the Grove Park Inn for what was our largest, most successful conference on record. Three weeks later, as we were all still basking in the afterglow of our landmark seminars and enjoying the new additions we brought back for our homes, the Covid-19 crisis turned into a worldwide pandemic.
Naturally, we all hoped — and blithely assumed — the crisis would run its course in a matter of weeks, but six months later we are still learning that more than 1,000 people around us are dying every day.
That’s the equivalent of three World Trade Center tragedies — in one week.
Then another, and another….
Here in North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper has currently restricted indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people in one room. To put that in perspective, we typically have nearly 900 people attending any one of our seminars. Before the doors even open for you, we generally have 90 antiques dealers and staff in the Grand Ballroom. Our 30 Small Group Discussions often have more than 25 people seated at a conference table, plus that many more around the perimeter of the room.
I credit my natural optimism with having enabled me to weather 33 National Arts and Crafts Conferences, but even I am getting close to recognizing that powers mightier than my Arts and Crafts spirit may prevent us from meeting in person at the Grove Park Inn just 140 days from now.
At best, an in-person Arts and Crafts Conference would have to be even smaller than our first conference back in 1988, as we would have to severely reduce and restrict the number of exhibitors and attendees. No one, especially an exhibitor who has invested two or three thousand dollars in travel expenses, meals, booth rents, display cases, truck rentals, and additional staffing, or yourself, who also has considerable expenses, wants to leave on Sunday evening feeling disappointed. Personally, I have to acknowledge that regardless how many people are in the audience, my seminar speakers and audio-visual equipment costs alone are still going to be around $20,000.
So, while no decision has yet been handed down on how many people can safely gather indoors, I have decided that we will not simply cancel our 2021 Arts and Crafts Conference. As many museums and shows have already demonstrated, the technology exists to enable people to continue to exchange ideas, absorb new information, share research, watch demonstrations, and make purchases. On one hand, here in the office we hold onto that glimmer of hope for a miracle, while on the other we are working to shape the components of an in-person conference into an at-home, on-line conference.
Trust me, some days it’s like learning a new language, so I hope you will bear with us a few more weeks as we continue to work out a plan for next February.
Until next week,
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over, instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli, author