Learning to Say Yes: Our Experience at an Unconference

When Grace, Megan and I started the discussion of picking up the reins of the Midwest Craft Caucus this spring, I had been connected to them digitally for years but had never actually met either of them in real life. Aside from the three of us being spread across Ohio, Grace was living in Germany for the summer, so we knew we’d be doing the majority of our event organizing remotely. We started with emails, then Google Hangout sessions. We really are lucky to be living in the digital age: The possibilities for collaboration are pretty much endless.

But we figured out a way to meet in person after all. Grace had attended a creative unconference in Palm Springs called Yes and Yes Yes (YxYY for short) last year and had such a great time that she was flying in from Dusseldorf to attend again. It would be the only time she’d be in the US until the end of summer, and I was actually going to be in LA for my best friends’ wedding the weekend prior. So I made arrangements to stay in Southern California, and we convinced Megan to fly out from Columbus to join us for a long weekend.

Photo by John Biehler

Let me just reiterate that I had never actually met Grace or Megan in real life before. For some reason they trusted me to navigate LAX in a tiny rental car to pick them up and safely escort them through Los Angeles traffic to our desert destination. There were a few stressful moments, but luckily Grace turned out to be an expert navigator and radio station whisperer, and Megan kept me entertained with her sarcastic comebacks from the backseat. Crafty friends FTW!

Palm Springs is an old resort town in the middle of the desert surrounded by mountains — somewhere you’d imagine the Rat Pack would hang out. YxYY essentially takes over the entire Ace Hotel, which might be the most hipster place on the planet. (Portlandia did a skit about the Ace in Portland, inconspicuously calling it the Deuce Hotel.)

YxYY is not your typical conference: It’s an “unscheduled” event, meaning that there are no pre-published schedules at all. When you purchase a ticket, you are given access to a wiki and a secret Facebook group where you can start to plan collaborations and share ideas. Then when you get to the conference, you use the YxYY app, where you can see what events you’d like to attend and add events of your own to the schedule. You can participate as much or as little as you want. Want to attend every single session you can? Go for it! Want to spend the entire time in the pool? No problem. You’ll meet cool people either way!

As a Midwesterner, I wasn’t sure this was going to work for me. I mean, I’m paying to be here. Shouldn’t there be some sort of agenda?

But before I knew it, I was in the middle of some of the most engaging conversations I’ve had in years. I talked about everything from the future of e-commerce to how to best manage all the hats you wear in your life via a silly hat party in the pool. I met engaging, creative people from all over the world.

There was an awesome maker space with craft supplies and several 3D printers thanks to YxYY’s amazing network of sponsors and volunteers. Megan took advantage of the technology, while I really just used the space to swipe supplies for my prom dress.

Yes, there was a prom, Roaring 2020s-themed, and it was so much fun! People went all out with their costumes; we got crafty with supplies we found at a Daiso Market in Los Angeles (think adorable Japanese dollar store). Every night an RV in the main parking lot turned into a karaoke bar. (I will admit to stomping my feet and singing my heart out.) Grace worked with the Palm Springs Animal Shelter to arrange a pop-up kitten cafe, which is exactly what you think it is. (Megan and I are both allergic, so we enjoyed the abundant cuteness from afar.)

IMG_4993And so we had our first official in-person Midwest Craft Con meeting at YxYY. I had picked up a waterproof memo pad, which seemed like the perfect excuse to have our meeting in the pool. We found a raft with cupholders for our boozy slushies and got to work! The environment was inspiring: We realized, we can make Midwest Craft Con whatever we want, and the most important thing is to facilitate conversations and relationships among our attendees.

YxYY bought out the whole entire Ace Hotel for us “yaysayers,” which was nice because you knew everyone was interesting and at most two or three degrees of separation from you. Between that and the conference’s code of conduct and stance on inclusion and collaboration, I really felt that I was in a safe place to share ideas.

We’re really excited to bring some “yes” back to the Midwest with us. Our Midwest Craft Con in 2016 will have more structure to it, with keynotes, panels and scheduled speakers, but we are building some social, collaborative, choose-your-own-adventure kinds of activities into the schedule. (Early bird tickets are on sale now!)

What would your ideal conference include? Post a comment or add something to our suggestion box!


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