Portland Creative Conference, 2017

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Diversity, Creativity, Inspiration:
Portland Creative Conference Dazzles!
by Sharon Rockey

Some of today’s most original and creative thinkers took to the Gerding Theater stage on September 29th, collectively lit a fuse, and set off a chain reaction of energetic and inspiring ideas—the kind that blasts right through all your self-imposed barriers and reignites your spirit. Welcome to the 2017 edition of the Portland Creative Conference!

At 8:15 am, the hall began to fill with hundreds of attendees—a mix of well-established creative industry professionals, fledglings, and inquiring hopefuls. They’d come to learn from the best, and from each other, and to recharge their imaginations!

This year’s conference kicked off with a rich and lively solo performance by renowned jazz saxophonist, Devin Philips. The rest of the day was filled with a mix of personal revelations from astute and accomplished creators, a few confessions, humor, and success stories about “How I persisted, pursued my big dream, and made it … and so can you!”

Here are just a few highlights:

David Walker, Award-winning Comic Book Writer and co-founder of Portland Black Film Festival
In the early years, David was so low on funds, but so desperate to experience the conference, he created his own badge and slipped in. (Note: couldn’t happen today!) After ignoring his career aptitude test results: an FBI agent or a fry cook, he found his niche, achieved success, and came to share his process and the 5-Cs of Comics:

  • Concept – idea/story
  • Communication – Write it down
  • Collaboration – Working with others
  • Concession – Adjust to changes
  • Connection – Finding your audience

It was a revelation! Who knew so much went into creating a comic book?

Lidia Yuknavitch, National Best Selling Novelist
In her presentation, which was later described as A Dharma Talk, Lidia used the flow of water and ocean waves as a metaphor for catching glimpses of new ideas … they come … they go … they come again—an internal process of kinetic energy. Everyone in attendance seemed to agree that this is the universal constant that underlies all creative endeavors. Sometimes it just takes patience, trust, and a listening attitude.

Tasha Miller, Jazz Singer
When we returned from a mid-morning break, Tasha Miller appeared on stage with … that voice! Picture a cool clear piece of finely cut crystal mixed with a balm of warm butter and honey, and you’ll get an idea of the quality, clarity, and sensual power of her voice. Its no wonder Tasha Miller has such a growing fan base.

Wes Studi, Actor
Appearing in more than eighty films and TV productions, including Dances with Wolves, Studi explained how he inhabits various character roles by drawing on his memories of “people-watching.” He showed some clips, then in a moving account of how he gets in touch with a sense of sadness and deep emotional pain, he simply said that his Native American heritage provides him with more than enough material.

Steve Gehlen and David McGinnis on Keeping the Arts
Conference chairman and producer Steve Gehlen and Stage Manager David McGinnis reminded us that the conference is a non-profit fundraiser that provides financial support to K-12 arts education programs in Oregon, with a focus on underserved rural communities. Steve described some of their many success stories and expressed gratitude to attendees for helping make this all possible.

Drum Solo Performance
In a savage street-busker style, using nothing more than a few over-turned plastic buckets, one large auto hub cap, and drum sticks, Thomas Brown blew everyone away with an electrifying rapid-fire percussion solo, which was interspersed with spontaneous shouts and cheers of approval from the audience.

Peter Kuran, Award Winning Special Effects Artist
Kuran’s impressive list of credits includes Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. He shared a few misadventures—like showing up for his first big interview at Lucas Film toting a 16mm projector (so he could show pre-digital samples of his work.) When his shoddy splicing caused the film to break apart, he said, “Hey, I’ll work here for free if you guys will give me a shot.” They did, and he eventually got hired. Everybody won!

Angela Medlin – Apparel Designer
With a huge photo of a ramshackle house projected as a backdrop behind her, Angela shared her story of “rags to richness” in designing for the apparel industry. As a child, her grandmother kept her supplied with notebooks and pencils, and encouraged her to “do her thing!” Years later Adidas, Eddie Bauer, and Nike hired her to do exactly that! Eventually she broke away and encouraged others to be “true to life” and to build their own personal brands.

Marcelino Alvarez – Founder and CEO, Uncorked Studios
If you were tempted to skip a talk that involved spreadsheets because it sounded like a big yawn, you probably didn’t notice Steve Gehlen’s personal tips on the front of the conference program. It urged you to see all the presentations, even if it didn’t seem relevant to you. Uncorked Studios solves creative problems for clients, and Marcelino Alvarez keeps production moving with the use of … yes, spreadsheets. As an example, he showed one entitled Grabbing Coffee that poked fun at himself. It featured three columns: How, Why, and Outcomes. Basically it illustrated how fresh air and a walk to the coffee house energizes you, why face time over coffee fosters relationships, and the outcome is that with enough caffeine, productivity goes up. If not for Steve’s advice, we might have missed an informative and very funny presentation.

 Three for Silver – Musical group
This lively and quirky trio bills themselves as “an elastic conglomeration of musical freaks playing made up music on made up instruments.” With an accordion, a violin/mandolin, something definitely involving an old washtub, and a singing voice reminiscent of Tom Waits after an extra hard night, Three for Silver energized the audience with their raucous and wildly entertaining music.

Kim Adams — Virtual Reality Producer
Following her own advice, “Don’t stay in one place too long,” Kim Adams interned at ILM, went back to the UCLA film school, made connections in Hollywood and networked like crazy, became the busiest producer for Pixar, worked on Finding Dory, and eventually ended up at Google learning the new VR medium and story telling platform Spotlight. Her message was clear—be tenacious, persistent, and resilient, believe in yourself, and keep moving.

 Shawn Levy Best Selling Author and Film Critic
Levy spent 30 years covering the film industry and wrote eight books about entertainment legends, including the Rat Pack. He stressed the importance of finding details as small as the “make and model” of Sinatra’s hats – and knowing where to go to “casually” run into the right people for inside stories. He called Portland a “star,” though escalating housing prices tends to kill creativity. But that we are definitely NOT Portlandia!

It was wonderful to see Rob Sample back as the MC. As I recalled those early years of Cre8con; in my mind Rob and his enthusiasm had always represented the “voice” of the conference. Kudos to Steve Gehlen, the conference producer, and to all the volunteers who worked hard on this year’s very special and unique event!

No matter what your field, your passion, or career, the creative process always applies to you!

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Sharon Rockey is a freelance writer and editor for print and on-line media. She writes on business, finanance, technology, lifestyle and the arts. Visit her on-line portfolio for samples of her work and see if she is right for your next project.