Atlanta Poly Weekend: my report (and others')
The weekend was bravely organized from scratch by Billy Holder, his wife Pocket, and their triad partner Jeremy (PB&J they call themselves), along with other friends and family and Atlanta Poly Meetup volunteers. A friendly, animated bunch of 113 people (attendees, presenters, staff, and kids) crowded into a small, out-of-the-way conference area of the Crowne Plaza Hotel a mile from the Atlanta airport. We had 30 hours of presentations and self-generated discussion groups and constant lively chatter. Financially it came fairly close to breaking even, which PB&J consider good for a first-time con. (And the weekend would have come out in the black except for a costly mistake in interpreting the hotel contract.) So clearly the Southland can support a poly conference all its own.
We had an open common area, three small meeting rooms, and a large meeting room divisible in half. These were renamed the Den, Bedrooms 1-3, the Living Room and Dining Room, for a homey feel. Speakers included Cunning Minx of the Polyamory Weekly podcast on “poly and single” and “personal branding for the sex-positive activist.” Joreth spoke on a panel on poly & skepticism and about the Polyamory Media Association. She also appeared in her full Victorian outfit as Miss Poly Manners to answer etiquette questions, one of her roles on Polyamory Weekly. I talked about media treatment of poly and about our recognition in the wider culture. MayMay presented on anti-censorship strategies and tactics for sex-positive and political websites; Billy and others spoke on Poly 101 and coming out; Jessica Karels gave a workshop on surviving as a community organizer. Elisabeth Sheff of Georgia State University, who is conducting long-term research on poly families with children, was on a panel titled “What Will We Tell the Kids?” For more see the preliminary session list.
The two evenings featured a local steampunk band and a burlesque show. The crowds for these were rather thin; a number of people had gone off to private room parties.
What a friendly, lively, excited bunch! Most of the people seemed to come from Georgia and neighboring states. Overall the event had the look and feel of a small, intimate science fiction/fantasy con, including a bit of costuming. PB&J have helped organize things at SF cons and know people involved in them; the paid sponsors they recruited for the program booklet included Dragon*Con, OutlantaCon, and Frolicon. The weekend's scheduling occasionally got frayed around the edges, and some events didn’t happen, but there was always enough going on that this didn’t matter.
The weekend was cheap: $50 to register, and the hotel was $82 per night (group rate). That did not include any food, however, and the hotel didn't allow outside food into the conference area. So, finding and paying for meals was an added expense and inconvenience. Remember to pack your own provisions; you can eat in your room (or in a room party).
PB&J were hugely thrilled at the size and community spirit of the crowd and have already announced next year’s Atlanta Poly Weekend. It will be March 9-11, 2012, possibly at a different hotel.
They are setting up as a 501(c)7 corporation, a “social and recreational group” under IRS rules (contributions will not be tax deductible). And, “to make this truly community owned,” said Billy, they may sell stock to raise funds, while keeping a majority ownership themselves. They had a volunteer lawyer (who was also a presenter) handle the 501(c)7 paperwork.
Here's the Atlanta Poly Weekend Facebook page.
More observations from my friend Ken Haslam, longtime poly activist and conference presenter:
My sense of the meeting was that there was a lot of native energy there, whatever that means. I think this group is going to be a formidable force in the future.... There seemed to be a subtle BDSM energy around but this is hard to define exactly. All in all very positive.
The lack of organization was not a problem for me and I suspect this will improve next year. I was especially pleased to see the well-organized "post mortem" [at the public closing session] where people discussed in detail what went wrong, how to improve it, and what topics might be good for next year, as the organizers wrote all this down.
A leader from the swing community was at the post mortem trying to get them to include a sponsored swing party. I had a chat with him and his girlfriend and explained that, IMHO, a lot of polys would just as soon curl up with a good encyclopedia as go to a sex party. I think a sex party (optional) off-premises and not sponsored might be OK if it is NOT affiliated with APW....
I wonder if this is the beginning of [a model of] really good local meetings that are cheap and eliminate the long-distance travel.
After the conference Billy posted his story of how APW came about, and his amazement and gratitude at how it worked:
How did we get here?!
...Atlanta Poly Weekend, like our [triad] relationship, started on “The Hill” [Dragon Hills Resort]. It was a warm October afternoon in 2009. We were lying in the sun talking. One of us said “You know, it’s a shame there’s not an organized Poly group or event for families in our area.” And so we took it upon ourselves to become active members in the community.... On March 21, 2010, we founded the Atlanta Polyamory Meetup.com website. One month later we held our first Meetup. There were 2 people there. But we kept at it. Now a year later we have 179 members.
During the growth of the Meetup event we realized that the community needed an event to network the South to the rest of the country. So Atlanta Poly Weekend was formed....
We had many bumps in the road and quite a few hills to climb. After a year of promoting and gathering presenters, we were looking at having to cancel. That’s when the ModernPoly team came up with some ideas to jumpstart interest in the conference....
I could never have imagined the wonderful feeling the moment we opened registration and the first people walked in. It was REAL. And we had done it....
Read his whole post (requires Facebook login).
And this is from Pocket:
There is a certain fear and joy with being first. You've got to build it yourself, with your own hands and hope it will be strong enough to stand on its own merits. On the flip side, there's joy in creating something from scratch without any rules and to be able to look at it and say, "I did this."
...Our staff was like a cross section of poly culture: our triad, a quad, a poly-friendly single and a husband with a poly wife. However, we quickly became family and would fill in the gaps where needed. If one fell, someone was there to pick them up. We functioned as a team.
...It didn't hit me until the Thursday before. I was at work and happened to look out a window, realizing that at that time the next day I would be setting up registration. I practically bounced all day and was almost unbearable I'm sure when Billy picked me up. Thank heavens for Chinese take-out that evening with the staff, and our families grounding me and reminding me that we are here on a mission!
For me, the event started when Jeremy and I picked up MayMay. Here was a presenter made form, no longer an idea but a solid, huggable reality.... As opening ceremonies were going on, Aims the Programming Goddess had stuck her head in the door and came out glowing. "It's real!" she told me, pride on her face. "We did this!"...
Read her whole post.
(Both quoted with permission.)
But you don't have to wait a year for more poly conference goodness!
● Loving More is holding one of its one-day Loving Choices seminars in Denver, Colorado, on April 23rd. These are more structured Poly 101 introductions intended particularly for newcomers to poly; individuals, couples and groups considering the possibilities and/or dealing with poly issues; and therapy professionals interested in learning about what more of their clients are thinking and doing. Schedule.
● Polycamp Northwest happens August 26–29 at Millersylvania State Park south of Seattle. Now in its 8th year (I think), Polycamp is a rustic, kid-friendly gathering that drew well over 100 people last year. See local alternative-newspaper article.
● Loving More's annual Summer Conference Retreat happens the weekend of September 911 at Easton Mountain Retreat in the rural hills north of Albany, New York. These events feature fine workshops, presenters, and poly community in a relaxed, clothing-optional setting. Here's last year's program, and my writeup of what the retreat is like that I sent around last year (requires Yahoo login).
● Loving More's annual Poly Living Conference happens in Philadelphia each February. The workshops and seminars are similar to those at Easton but held amid the amenities of a fine hotel; not clothing-optional. Here's the program from the February 2011 Poly Living, and here's my writeup of the first one I attended.