At the end of March, I attended the Visual Resources Association’s 34th Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, along with Visual Resources Center Director Millie Fullmer. This year’s conference theme was “Unbridled Opportunities”, a theme which played on the horse racing history of Kentucky but also addressed the rapid changes occurring in the visual resources field and how professionals can meet new challenges head-on.
This was my first professional conference and I appreciated that there were several sessions geared toward professionals in the early stages of their careers. One such session was “New Faces, New Voices: Emerging Professionals Lightning Round”, in which our own Millie Fullmer presented on the work we do in the Visual Resources Center. I was also fascinated by the presentation given by Purva Chawla, the founder of MaterialDriven, an online platform designed to address the visual resource needs of architects, designers, and artists. Many of us visual resources professionals work in university or museum settings, so Purva brought a refreshing entrepreneurial and business-oriented perspective to the session.
Two presenters in other sessions had special connections to Vanderbilt: Madeleine (Mickey) Casad, Coordinator of the Vanderbilt Center for Digital Humanities, discussed facilitating cross-departmental collaboration on campus; and Stephanie Schmidt, a former HART major and student worker in the department, discussed the challenge of building a corporate archive from the ground up at the Sazerac Company.
I also had a little free time to explore downtown Louisville. Between sessions I made a quick trip to the Speed Museum of Art adjacent to the University of Louisville’s campus. The museum is just a few miles from the conference hotel, but I was happy to discover that the route took me through a historic residential neighborhood called Old Louisville which is filled with grand Victorian houses. The Speed Museum itself is a spacious museum with a diverse collection on display. I was particularly charmed by the colorful gallery walls and the Art Sparks gallery, one of the coolest interactive learning galleries I’ve seen in an art museum.
The highlight of the conference was the fascinating convocation speech given by Brent Seales, Director of the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky. Seales discussed his work developing cutting-edge digital imaging technology to create readable images from extremely fragile cultural heritage objects such as fire-damaged manuscripts and brittle papyrus scrolls. Seales framed his talk with the conference’s “Unbridled Opportunities” theme in mind: he advised the audience to learn from professional constraints; accept guidance and training from mentors; seek out and prepare for new challenges; and when the bridle comes off, be ready to run.
— Shelby Merritt