When you look into the mirror, what do you see in the reflected image? An artist? An animator? An educator? An engineer? Indeed, the people who make up the living, breathing element of SIGGRAPH hail from many industries and genres, united by their interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. This year, as well as the next few, SIGGRAPH will focus on these diverse members of SIGGRAPH’s vibrant community. To this end, the subsequent conference themes in the multi-year endeavor will highlight these groups, starting with this year’s “I Am Art” and “I Am Science”—an appropriate selection given 2012 Conference Chair Rebecca Strzelec’s background.
“The theme evolved from conversations with the committee and our design team. I really wanted to have art as part of the theme somehow, but SIGGRAPH is so many things that it really isn’t right to choose one,” says Strzelec. “It quickly became clear that it would take many conferences to describe and capture all that SIGGRAPH’s attendees do and create.”
Here, Strzelec provides a glimpse of what it is like to head up such a complex trade show and exhibition as SIGGRAPH, and what we can expect from this year’s conference.
Tell us a little bit about yourself from a personal level.
I teach at Penn State University, Altoona College in central Pennsylvania, where I am a professor of visual arts and program coordinator of the Visual Art Studies degree program. I earned my BFA and MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM. My art practice consists of wearable objects, which are created via computer-aided design, three-dimensional modeling, and rapid prototyping.
My artwork is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and Juniata College Museum of Art in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Pieces have been featured in many exhibitions in prominent contemporary craft galleries in the US and abroad, including the internationally juried Schmuck 2008 exhibition in Munich. My work has been included in books, such as Inspired Jewelry From the Museum of Arts and Design, 500 Brooches, 500 Pendants and Lockets, and 500 Plastic Jewelry Designs. It is also found in Metalsmith, American Craft, and Lapidary Journal magazines. I am a 2005 Millay Colony for the Arts Nancy Graves Fellow and 2009 Penn State Alumni Teaching Fellow. I live in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, with my husband, graphic designer extraordinaire Adam Vorlicek, and our daughter, Stella Reason.
What do you bring to SIGGRAPH in terms of this professional experience?
As an educator and artist, I bring the interests and values of two of our core areas. SIGGRAPH has been making a concerted effort to expand and support the arts areas of the conference, and my experience as someone who makes, exhibits, and writes about technologically-driven art making has proved beneficial to decision making and future planning. Education is always a key component at SIGGRAPH, and my role as university professor dovetails nicely with many of SIGGRAPH’s missions.
How has SIGGRAPH influenced you personally and professionally?
The time I have spent working alongside the volunteers and contractors of SIGGRAPH has taught me more things than I can mention here. But the highlights include diverse experiences with a highly motivated, large team of people, logistics planning and organization, and my overall networking and communication skills have been fine-tuned.
What are some of the best “tips” you have received from past chairs?
Many of the past chairs have been helpful during the planning cycle. SIGGRAPH does a good job in providing ample shadowing time for future chairs, so lucky for me I was able to watch the last few conference chairs in action. I have been taking lots of notes and hope to build on all of their hard work. Probably the best advice I’ve received recently is to remember to have fun!
What is the best tip you have for the next chair?
Mk Haley is super sharp, extremely connected, and she has put together an amazing team for the 2013 committee. If I could offer anything in terms of advice, it would be to start catching up on sleep now.
Every year, the chair’s influence can be felt to some degree on the overall show. How will your background and interests influence this year’s show?
I believe my interest in the collision of art and science is seen throughout the overall theme and graphic identity of SIGGRAPH 2012. We worked diligently to capture some of our core audience in the way that we identify or themed this year’s conference.
What is the mark you hope to leave on SIGGRAPH 2012?
I want SIGGRAPH 2012 to be successful in all the ways we measure success. But most importantly, I want attendees to feel that their travel to LA, their time away from their families, jobs, and lives was well worth it and that they can go back to their communities with new information, inspiration, contacts, and ideas.
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)