Despite it being largely virtual, there was a tangible feeling of camaraderie surrounding the 2021 University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference, held recently from July 12-14. If the enthusiasm of the participants and the artists who took part is any indication, the kinship between them, and the love they have for the conference, hasn’t waned after a most challenging several months.
The three-day conference that hosts internationally known authors and illustrators from across the country, once again brought people together in the name of art and education. Most joined via Zoom, however, an in-person watch opportunity was also available to those interested, with breakout sessions splitting off into separate rooms within the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion on UF’s campus.
The keynote speakers for the 2021 conference included Julia Denos, Matthew Forsythe, Sarah Jacoby, Corinna Luyken, Hannah Salyer, and April dela Noche Milne, who said she was “grateful to have been given the opportunity to share [her] own thoughts and methods” and to connect with people who are “likeminded and passionate” about children’s books.
In addition to the speakers, registered participants were treated to a veritable cornucopia of presentations, including breakout sessions from international award-winning educator, author and storyteller Kevin Cordi; author, speaker, consultant, seminar presenter, and winner of multiple awards, Christina Dorr, Ph.D.; Pandora-Gilboa middle school intervention specialist Stephanie Myers; members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) Kathryn Powers and Dave Szalay, alongside Illustrator Becky Gerhrisch; published adapter, author, editor, illustrator, and a narrator of children’s and young adult books, Kathy East; and advocates/educators Joe Prince and Matty Bower.
Participant Charlaine Ezell, who has been attending Mazza conferences for nine years, said that despite the pandemic and how plans for this year’s summer conference changed accordingly, Mazza “pulled off another winner.” In the past, Ezell said she has been able to bring her husband, their daughter, former children’s librarians, and friends who “didn’t know what they were missing by having careers that didn’t involve children’s books, but who trusted [her] when [she] suggested they should attend a wonderful program. Never have we been disappointed,” she said.
Another partaker, Carol Spears, echoed Ezell’s praise for the conference’s success in the face of adversity, saying that, while she knew it “wasn’t easy” to put together, the 2021 effort was enjoyable, enlightening and uplifting. “So wonderful to see and hear such creative people,” she said. “And because we all love children’s picture books, it makes my heart fill with happiness to know that there are so many of us who have that love and wish to share it.”
From the spreading of collective knowledge and creativity to what Forsythe called a “really rewarding level of engagement from the attendees,” Mazza’s 2021 Summer Conference filled hearts and minds that were surely in need of an outlet for their creative interest. “It was so fun, and so inspiring to see the way that fellow presenters approached art making and creative living,” dela Noche Milne said. “I really appreciated everyone’s generosity.”
Plans are in motion and forthcoming for the next Mazza Conference to be held in the fall of 2021.