SHE MAKES NICE:
AN UN-CONFERENCE FOR CREATIVE WOMEN
We met WNW Member #8330 Ngaio Parr at this year's Designer Vaca where she held the distinction of traveling the farthest. Based in Australia, Ngaio was eager to learn how she could develop a creative women's conference back home. A designer and illustrator by trade, Ngaio was frustrated by what she saw as a lack of support among Australian women in the creative community.
Ngaio teamed up with curator-artist-writer Alexandra Winters to create Make Nice, a first-of-its-kind, three-day event for creative women to learn in an intimate "un-conference" format. With its debut upcoming in June, we caught up with Ngaio to find out what she's learned during the planning process and any advice for other creatives dreaming of making their own conference. Warning: it's a lot of work.
ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE
What's been remarkable to me is how generous and supportive our community has been. We've reached out to some of my personal heroes to be involved in one way or another and they've actually all said yes. And not just yes, they're as excited and interested in what we are doing as we are - which is so affirming. From speakers and mentors to sponsors and volunteers - it has really blown us away. Make Nice has resonated with them and they want to, well, make nice too.
I'm not saying it's been easy, but I guess I had no idea it would be quite so simple. If you want something, ask. Of course, you have to do the work, you have to put in the hours and build something that you passionately think the world wants and needs. But once you get that bit right, ask (nicely) and you shall receive.
EVERYTHING WILL GO WRONG AND THAT'S OKAY
Oh, the setbacks! Many and plentiful and frustrating and disappointing but in the end, actually okay. I mean, things go wrong a lot. There have been some rough days (and by days I mean months), but the excitement and the passion always far outweigh the setbacks. Perspective is key here, as well as an amazing co-director to share the highs and lows. You just have to tuck the kind words and support in your back pocket to make the bad days worth it all.
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
The glowing and enthusiastic responses we have received to Make Nice have affirmed for us that this is a topic people care about and an event people want. This business of bringing creative women together. Months ago - in the beginning - it was our keynotes, women at the top of their game who we admire profusely signed up immediately to take part. After launching Make Nice out into the world more recently we're feeling that response more broadly. We're getting so much love from women we admire - in Australia and abroad and across a whole range of fields. Our inboxes are filled with women we’ve never met who are excited to come, some that can't come but want to say how great it is, some that are contributing to our blog and the wider conversations that we are passionate about, and some that just wanted to thank us for curating the event into existence. These encouragements and messages have been the ‘if you build it, they will come’ lesson that we are so happy to learn.
The following are excerpts from an interview previously published on the Make Nice blog:
What was your motivation behind creating Make Nice?
Ngaio: We both returned to Australia after studying and working in the United States for a while and found it very difficult to feel supported, particularly by other women, in the creative industries. The support networks and friends we had made in a matter of months over there took years to cultivate in Australia.
Alex: There was a generosity of knowledge and network sharing in the States that we felt was lacking here. It is great to be competitive, dedicated and have drive, but not when it runs the risk of disadvantaging an industry from growing collectively.
Ngaio: We wanted to create something for women who are doing well - but perhaps working freelance, or working in a studio with no female role models, to connect with other creatives. In their own field and beyond.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
Ngaio: My first degree in Fine Arts (Visual Arts) really shaped the way I think and work. Amongst many other valuable lesson it taught me to follow my interest, to think (and write) critically, to get outside my comfort zone as often as possible, and to make things happen rather than waiting and hoping they will. Without these skills I would definitely not be where I am today.
Midway through my second degree (Design) I saved up enough money to do an exchange at the Rhode Island School of Design. If you don’t know it – it is one of, if not the best design school in the world, and it really opened my eyes and challenged me in the best way possible. That time informs how I structure my day, my design process, the projects I want to work on, and most importantly, how I teach.
The third milestone would be a Skype call Alex and I had where we decided we would quit complaining and create what became Make Nice. Maybe if I wasn’t a few ciders in and we weren’t such great friends none of this would be happening!
Alex: Getting into art school straight out of high school to lay the foundations for the love of my industry.
Landing a gallery job straight after graduating to teach me the skill set I have adapted to so many different roles since.
Receiving grant money to travel to the U.S on what I was calling ‘self-directed education’, as an alternative to postgraduate study, where I attended conferences and interviewed organisations, organisers and artists that were doing what I was interested in. I pursued practical knowledge and actually met the people I would go on to write about in my Masters, it advanced my knowledge base immeasurably and also led me to work with Open Engagement.
What has been the best moment so far about creating Make Nice?
Ngaio: We’ve had a lot of setback producing Make Nice, and I like to keep two different moments in mind when the next inevitable setback comes around to remind me that it is all worthwhile. The first was receiving the most amazing email back from Adi Goodrich no less than five minutes after we’d invited her to present. It was filled with love and support and excitement – it was just so incredible and affirming to feel the love.
The second has been the amazing response we’ve felt in the past few days after our soft launch. We’ve received emails from complete strangers thanking us for the work we are doing, support from women in the field that we look up too, and an overwhelming approval for our first curated lineup.
Alex: I can’t pinpoint one overarching moment yet, I feel like every time we hear from someone telling us they love the idea and want to support what we are doing, means we are on the right track. I also get a lot out of constructive criticism, which is always going to find its way into your inbox when you create something provocative and public. Working with Ngaio and our greater team to articulate a response as to why we are doing what we are doing further cements why Make Nice is onto something. Also – every time we Skype with our idols, be it other conference directors from around the globe who are willing to give us advice and direction, or people we are collaborating with, makes me realise that the very process of creating this event, is demonstrating and building that network and exchange of ideas and knowledge that we want Make Nice to do. So the preparation leading up to the event has already been super rewarding and valuable, and something I’m sure Ngaio and I will continue to reap the rewards of for years to come.
Any dreams for the Make Nice 2017 lineup?
Ngaio: We have a never-ending list of talented women - some of which we were talking with about 2016 and we just couldn’t pull together enough funding to bring them all over this year. Top of my list is Danielle Pender, Tuesday Bassen, and Miranda July. I call bullshit on whoever tells you it is difficult to find female speakers for conferences.
Alex: Oh man, I would love to program some leading ladies running festivals. I think that is a tough industry that I would like to know the intricacies of more.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Ngaio: I’ve left highly-paid, mostly fulfilling jobs twice and mixed up careers again and again. Both times – “If you don't build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs”, was the maxim that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m definitely earning less money – and I work longer hours - but I’m slowly but surely building my dream and I’ve never once regretted those decisions.
Alex: “Master of all trades, Jack of you thinking I’m not” – my twist on the disparaging expression: "Jack of all trades, master of none". I am really good at more than one thing – deal with it. I don’t need to specialise to be at the top of my game, and because this isn’t the norm I have to remind myself that it’s an advantage not a disadvantage.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Ngaio: When I first started working independently, numerous friends and colleagues recommended I stick to a good routine. Of course I instead resisted scheduling my day and creating routines for as long as possible. Well - they were all completely right. My routine and schedule are what keeps me moving, and gets my work done – without it my life would be nothing but Law & Order and pyjamas.
Alex: Take care of your health. (Ngaio: I totally told you this earlier HA)
Click here to read the full interview.