About 100 people attended the 2014 ART Conference, May 1-4 at Paradise Point in San Diego. A remarkable 40 of those were new attendees, and I was pleased to see a few lighting showrooms among them.
This annual event for ART – The Creative Home Furnishings Network  is always a favorite of mine. The palpable feeling of ease established early on in the programming eliminates any guardedness and fosters frank discussion and active participation in the sessions that follow. I’m sure this safe sense of intimacy is partially due to the size of the group involved — by the end of the Conference, you’ve definitely met everyone — but there’s also just an aura embodied by friendly folks like ART Executive Director Sharon Davis.
Several attendees indicated informally that this particular Conference was ART’s best ever, and I can see why. It featured a revised format that kicked off with a lunch and then went right into a lively keynote, proceeding to balance unique and clever networking opportunities with a varied mix of PowerPoint presentations, panel discussions and even rapid-fire “speed dating” sessions with a choice of experts.
But what made this year’s ART Conference especially valuable were the voices shared by participants, encompassing all aspects of the home accessories supply chain. Honest discussions covered e-commerce, the future of sales reps and how to work fairly with interior designers without alienating loyal retailers who buy deep enough to deserve a better deal. The mutual understandings that resulted felt one step closer to real solutions.
A telling moment at Conference came on the last day, which was supposed to have involved break-out sessions with both of that morning’s speakers on the subject of sales. Sensing that this was creating a dilemma for attendees to choose one or the other, Conference Chair Lee Hershberg of International Market Centers  simply asked if people would be willing to stay for an additional hour so everyone could experience both break-outs. They did, and received an enriched perspective for that investment of time.
That could never happen at a larger convention. As connected as the American Lighting Assn.  (ALA) keeps our industry, their Conference  scheduling tends to be a bit more buttoned up (okay, maybe buttoned up a ton). I wonder what aspects of ART would translate to ALA without losing the professionalism and top-notch educational opportunities that we’ll enjoy at the Omni Nashville  in a few months. One surefire way to find out is to put the gavel down and listen.