EducationInterview

John Davey and Rich Shupe on Reasons to be Creative

Flash on the Beach is now known as Reasons to be Creative – a festival highlighting artistic, creative and technical inspiration. We talk to organisers John Davey and Rich Shupe about the change and what the first conference on 14-15 June in New York will hold

Picture of John (right) and Rich (left) taken by Brendan Dawes.

.net: Why did you decide to ditch the Flash on the Beach name?
John Davey: The truth is, FOTB had grown much broader over the six years it was running, and included web design, filmmaking, processing, mobile app development, and more. Our audience understood this, but the wider community thought it was 'just a Flash event.' The obvious fact was that the speakers and attendees alike were very creative, be they coders or designers. Hence the new name: Reasons to be Creative.

.net: In the US you'd already tried out Geeky By Nature. Why did you not stick with this and go with Reasons to be Creative instead?
JD: It's funny because 'geeky' means such different things to different people. I wanted an event that everyone understood by its title, and, it made total sense to align the US and Europe together, so, rather than change FOTB to GBN or the other way around, I decided that both sides of the ocean should have the same new name.

Rich Shupe: It's hard to convey all of your editorial ideas in a name. We also wanted a name that would impart our feelings about the future. This has been a tough year for our industry, with platform upheavals, waning and maturing technolgoies, and the recession. We wanted to use the festivals as a way to let everyone know that there is still a wealth of talent and tools out there to achieve your goals.

JD: The emphasis in the name is reasons. It has it's origin in an Ian Dury song, "Reasons to be Cheerful". The lyrics of that song include a wonderful list of things that make us happy. When I think of the artistic, creative, technical age we live in, I could easily replace those lyrics with 100 different things that relate to our industry. Coders, artists, and designers all have a ton of Reasons to be Creative!

.net: Other former Flash conferences around the world are also trying out new directions. FFK in Germany, for example, is now known as Beyond Tellerrand. How much has this to do with the fact that Flash is falling out of favour among web designers/developers?
JD: That is an interesting perception. Personally, I love Flash but, nowadays, a designer or coder has so many tools to choose from. I think there is a tendency for people to assume that one technology has been abandoned for another, when actually, the reality is that new technologies are being embraced alongside tech we have been using for a long time. I like to simplify it down to the right tool for the job. I think Flash bashing is an easy bandwagon to jump on, and I prefer to think that all the tools available can get along in the toolbox!

RS: I agree. I think it's hasty to discard a tool that is so effective at some things, and fun for so many to use, in some cases only because of the way the wind is blowing. At the very least, I think it's premature to think of abandoning Flash Platform until other technologies can accomplish as much, as well and with the same reliability and portability. I do as much HTML and JavaScript development as I do ActionScript development, but by no means am I turning my back on the platform.

.net: What can people expect from Reasons? How is it going to be different from Flash on the Beach?
JD: Of course I am working hard on shaking things up and keeping things fresh, but, we will certainly keep things that our audience has come to love. In Brighton, for example, the Elevator Pitch gives 20 newbie coders or designers three minutes each to throw down their best work. The attendees vote for their top three, who then get invited back to deliver full sessions. Great speakers such as Frank Reitberger, Tom Vian, Andreas Ronning, Jon Howard and Conrad Winchester all came from the Elevator Pitch.

RS: We're actively increasing student participation, too, with heavily a discounted registration, and even free sponsored tickets. Students can try for free tickets at www.ReasonsToBeCreative.com/request/. As a teacher, it's very important to me to look out for the next generation of creators. And, as John said, we don't want to forget about the fun. On both sides of the pond, we'll continue the Inspired Sessions in the evening, where attendees can kick back and get inspired before the parties. Above all, we want to deliver a balanced event, that appeals to designers and coders.

.net: John and Rich, how did you get to work on this together?
JD: Rich is one of my oldest friends in the industry. We met whilst we were both speaking at very early Flash conferences. We have a fantastic simpatico and we laugh a lot – and that is important! There is a lot of work that goes into producing these events, which can sometimes be stressful. Being able to laugh at, and with, each other helps a lot! I love Rich like a brother, and am lucky to have him working on the New York event.

RD: I feel the same way. And, from the other side of the podium, I've spoken for John for six years and on two continents, and I've never had more fun at any other event. He cares as much about his speakers as he does about his audience and his events are always special.

.net: How did you come up with the schedule/the programming?
JD: For the New York event, we tried to tap into as much of that city's energy and creativity as possible. There's an incredible talent pool in this city. The SVA Theatre is a beautiful complex, with two theaters, so this year we tried to balance what we're boiling down to "creative" and "technical" sessions. Neither terms are attempts to pigeon-hole the content. Rather, they're jumping off points provided by the speakers so that we can try to avoid scheduling conflicts. We're also constantly updating our speaker wish-lists. To a degree, we feel a responsibility to introduce speakers that the audience may not already be aware of.

RS: Also, on a personal level, it was really motivating to try to work with as many teachers, authors, and lecturers as we could. We have instructors from the School of Visual Arts, New York University, Parsons School of Design, and more, as well as successful writers and trainers. It's so great to have speakers whose talent attracted us in the first place, but who can also really engage the audience.

.net: How did you approach the gender split when it came to booking speakers? Was this an issue for you?
JD: This is an age old issue. The simple truth is that, for some reason, we receive many more speaking proposals from men than we do from women. I have no idea why. I can 'leak' that the September event in Brighton, UK already has four times the amount of female speakers that we've had in the past and I hope this will encourage more female speakers to become involved in the future.

.net: What do you think of Robert Hoekman Jr's criticism of web conferences and what do you do to improve things?
JD: This is an interesting read.  We've tried to address many of the points he makes over the last six years. Being an ex-speaker, and a perpetual attendee, gives me the experience to know what I would like as a speaker. We really try to focus on new talent, not only with the Elevator Pitch but also through recommendations and our own research. Over the past few years FOTB has had nearly 100 newbies on stage.

RS: We also try to balance our editorial into technical and creative paths and include varied artistic mediums and technologies. We want to provide choice, but a little guidance as well because, when a speaker lineup really comes together, it can be a challenge to pick who to see!

JD: Finally, we let our speakers talk about what they're most passionate about and try to encourage a dialog between speakers and attendees – both express and implied. We try to build in ample Q&A times and give everyone a chance to mingle in the theater lobby to discuss what inspired everyone the most. Robert brings up some good points and I'd like to think that we don't often find ourselves guilty of many of those failings at our events.

.net: What are some of the highlights of Reasons you look forward to most?
JD: I guess I look forward to the vibe the most. Walking through the theaters and talking to attendees who are buzzing with inspiration and eager to get to try out new ideas that have been inspired by sessions they have seen. Some organisers do events for a living, I do them because I always wanted to be the guy who throws the best parties. I hope that attendees feel the passion, time and attention to detail we put into these events.

RS: One of the things I'm really looking forward to is the speaker art show in New York. At the Indigo Chelsea, 13 works are on display until 1 July, from artists such as Jon Burgerman, Paula Scher, Joshua Davis, Ken Perlin, Josh Nimoy, Seb Lee Delisle, Carla Diana, Amit Pitaru, and more.

Excited? The first person to leave a comment below will receive a pair of tickets to Reasons to be Creative in New York on 14-15 June.

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