It Takes A Village - And A Chief

Category: Siggraph
The clock is ticking down to SIGGRAPH 2012. Soon, thousands and thousands of digital artists will be wandering the halls of the show, attending sessions, learning about new techniques, meeting new friends, and reconnecting with previous ones.

It takes months, even years, of planning to make the conference and exhibition one of the best in the world. And while such planning requires a village of volunteers, it also relies on the guidance and decisions of the conference chair. This year, that role falls to Rebecca Strzelec, a professor of visual arts and program coordinator of the Visual Art Studies degree program at Penn State University, Altoona College. 

Here, we meet the person behind the curtain of this year’s event, as she prepares us for this grand event. (Also see the Editors Note in the June/July 2012 issue of CGW for a personal introduction to Strzelec and how her interest in the collision of art and science can be seen throughout SIGGRAPH 2012.)

When did you begin volunteering at SIGGRAPH, and what positions have you held? 
Informally, I began volunteering in 2003. I was exhibiting some work in the Art Gallery and wandered into the Guerilla Studio (now known as Studio) on setup day. I started to pitch in and never really left. I came back for three years to officially be a member of the sub-committee for the Studio. In 2007, I was the Studio chair. I served as the Conference Arts director in 2008 and 2009, and then started shadowing for the Conference chair position shortly thereafter.

What made you join SIGGRAPH as a volunteer? 
I have volunteered for other organizations and conferences but haven’t experienced the kind of teamwork and passion seen in SIGGRAPH volunteers. SIGGRAPH volunteers tend to be super smart, enthusiastic, and they have diverse interests and occupations. It is tons of fun to work with them on shared goals. I saw just a small piece of that my first year in the Studio and realized it carried through all the venues and programs. 

What can attendees expect this year from the show in terms of content? 
Attendees can expect the same level of robust and intriguing content. We have had phenomenal content submissions across all areas, from the Technical Papers, to Courses, to the Computer Animation Festival, to the Art Gallery. Plus, there truly is something for everyone at SIGGRAPH. And there’s economical access for those people who just want a small taste of the SIGGRAPH experience. We are also excited about the response from our exhibitor community, as the Exhibition is on pace to grow by 14 percent compared to last year. The quantity of new exhibitors and the participation from the international community continues to fuel its growth.

Will we see anything new in terms of the SIGGRAPH experience? 
Yes, we are introducing the SIGGRAPH Mobile program, which will be a full day of talks, workshops, and demos about all things mobile. It’s on Wednesday, and it will be pretty exciting.  Also, we are bringing back the SIGGRAPH Business Symposium that launched in Vancouver and was an amazing success. All the major components that attendees have come to love and expect at SIGGRAPH will be returning.

How will this year’s show be different from last year’s show? 
A major difference is location. While the theme for last year in Vancouver was “Make it Home,” we are truly coming home when we are in Los Angeles. L.A. Live – the commercial business district around the convention center – has blossomed into wonderful entertainment and networking space that serves our core audiences very well. SIGGRAPH is as much about learning and discovery as it is about making lifelong professional connections and networking. Plus, the Exhibition is shaping up to be bigger, with more exhibitors. And, as is always the case, our technical community continues to discover and innovate. We will once again be extremely fortunate to hear about the most current research findings in computer graphics. On that note, I would highly recommend viewing the amazing 2012 Technical Papers preview video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKrng7ztpog).

How have you been preparing for this event, from the time you were awarded the position until now? 
Lots of shadowing. Attending meetings and holding conference calls. SIGGRAPH is built on the interactions of passionate people, and as a conference chair, I am lucky that I get to be a part of almost all those conversations. So I think it is fair to say I’ve spent most of my time communicating. But really, once I identified the committee, I basically get to assist them in making their plans happen.

What were some of the biggest surprises you learned as chair? 
I think I had a general idea of how much work and time went into planning a SIGGRAPH conference when I was a contributor and attendee, but until I started participating in logistics meetings, I really didn’t know what actually went into making SIGGRAPH happen. It is an immensely impressive team of volunteers and contractors. The beautiful thing about it, though, is that most attendees never see or fully see all of that effort. That’s because the people behind SIGGRAPH make it look like it rolls out all on its own. I continue to be surprised by how much people love working for a conference. It is a gift to be a part of it.

Post-SIGGRAPH 2012, will you reprise any former roles in the organization, assume any new ones, or take the year off just to enjoy the show?
I am not sure I can wrap my head around the idea of ‘post-SIGGRAPH 2012.” Is there such a thing? (chuckle)


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