SECAC, the Southeast College Art Conference, was founded as a regional arts organization in 1942 and now hosts an annual, national conference for artists, art educators and scholars, and art museum professionals.
The organization also publishes The SECAC Review, presents awards for excellence in teaching, museum exhibitions, and artist works, and posts opportunities and jobs for art professionals. I have attended and presented at numerous SECAC conferences in the past, in Little Rock, AR, Norfolk, VA, Columbia, SC, and Savannah, GA. The 2012 conference was held in my hometown, Durham, NC and sponsored by Meredith College. Conference panels are proposed and selected by panel chairs, and this year, I chaired a panel titled “Disability and Performance: Bodies on Display.” This topic is central to my research and especially my book, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art.
My panelists gave presentations on independent films; the canonical painting by Thomas Eakins, “The Gross Clinic,” 1875, and comparable images of disabled war veterans; and the collection of freak show photographs in the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CN. This was my second experience chairing a panel on disability and disability studies at a SECAC conference, topics that are still somewhat new for art historians and professionals. The panel went well and sparked much interest and lively conversation.
I also attended a panel on Doppelgangers, or images of doubles or identical pairs, which engaged art historical examples from diverse contexts and time periods, as well as a panel on self-taught, or outsider artists. This latter panel was of special interest to me, because my good friend from graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, Leisa Rundquist, presented a paper on the work of Henry Darger (the link is to works by Darger in the Folk Art Museum, whose administration and education employees hosted the panel). Leisa is now a professor of art history of UNC Asheville, so the conference was also a chance to see her. I especially enjoy SECAC conferences, because I see a lot of old friends and usually meet new and like-minded people.
I didn’t attend as much of the conference as I usually do, ironically, because it was too close to home. On the day before my presentation, my refrigerator broke, so I returned home right after the panel to wait for a new refrigerator to arrive. I attended two panels the next day and caught up with friends over glasses of wine at the bar. I didn’t participate in any of the organized tours of local museums and art venues, as I can see them whenever I want. It was nice not to have to pack for and travel to the conference, especially in light of how stressful and expensive flying has become, but there is something nice about going to conferences out of town, staying at the conference hotel, and immersing yourself in the atmosphere and activities.
This Fall, the conference will be held in Greensboro, NC, so hopefully I will see many of my colleagues from UNCG and the Weatherspoon Art Museum there, as well as, perhaps, my students. I will be chairing a panel titled “Photographing the Body.”