I spent last weekend in Seattle for the National Arts Marketing Project conference. As the name suggests, it was a gathering of nonprofit marketing professionals who work for arts organizations. An entire weekend spent talking about email list segmentation, readability scores, and audience motivation? Be still my heart!
My conference swag included a pin that says “arts marketing is my superpower” and I wore it proudly.
Look, I don’t want to say that arts conference are vastly cooler than other sectors’ convocations, but our opening reception was at the Seattle Art Museum and we were escorted there by a giant, glowing dragon puppet. We turned quite a few heads as we tromped en masse from the hotel to the museum. As well we should, because we’re a pretty awesome bunch.
In addition to being tons of fun, conferences are intense. I’m an extroverted person and yet the constant flow of small talk, introductions, and networking required every ounce of sparkle that I could muster on a daily basis. And I can muster quite a lot of sparkle. I don’t know how introverts survive at those things.
Despite the daily social drain, I came back from the event energized, both by the fantastic content and by my brief plunge into urban living. I chose small town life for lots of reasons – close community, no commute, positive child-rearing environment, and overall cuteness among them – but I spent some of my formative early adult years in Pittsburgh and readily acknowledge the great perks to living in the city.
There is something empowering and energizing about existing in an urban space. I find that I don’t just walk through a city – I stride. Some of that is ingrained self-protection instincts (always look confident!) but some of it stems from the exhilaration of being in a place so utterly alive. The constant hum and nonstop motion of pedestrians and vehicles gets inside you and resonates there. You can feel it.
I loved the people-watching. There are so many permutations of the human experience when you’re in the city. My favorite encounter was with a street performer who had parked an upright piano on a busy sidewalk corner and was playing with gusto, a sign gently suggesting that tips were appreciated.
And the food. Oh my word, the food. The hardest adjustment for me when I left Pittsburgh was losing the easy access to so many fabulous restaurants. Thus while in Seattle, I took full advantage of what the city had to offer. I munched on naan from a tandoori food cart at Pike Place Market, dined at an Ethiopian restaurant one evening, and visited a truly delightful local donut shop. Said donut shop proudly displayed a very large photograph of Barack Obama eating there, more proof – as if it was needed – that he and I would be besties if we ever met.
I know I’m glamorizing the city right now. I have lived in urban contexts enough to be fully aware that, in addition to being hip and vibrant, cities can be dirty and dangerous and tarnished by inexcusable wealth divides and racial disparities. Spoiler alert: small town USA is the same way. Only the scale is different.
It’s not that I’m dying to return to the life of a city slicker. Rather, I acknowledge that the occasional drastic change of pace can be good for the soul. For me, that meant a weekend of unencumbered adulting. The adjective is important. As a thirty seven year old single mom, I “adult” all the time. But hanging out in a hip city – away from the demands of laundry and lunch-packing – with 500 like-minded people while somebody else picks up the bill? Now that is an experience we all need every now and again.