Not sure what to use all those social-media platforms for? They’re great for finding ways to connect, share ideas, and build community. Adam Field has found ways to do all of this by organizing a ceramics scavenger hunt in conjunction with the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) annual conference.
In today’s post, on excerpt from the March 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Garth Johnson tells the story of Hide-N-Seekah! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
Nearly all artists know what it’s like to feel isolated in the studio. On February 20, 2013, potter Adam Field was working in his Colorado studio late at night. His inspiration seemed to be ebbing by the minute, so he picked a very 21st century solution. He opened his smartphone and started surfing the web. Like many people late at night, Adam opened up his Instagram account to see what his friends were doing. Little did he know, lightning was about to strike.
Halfway across the country, his friend Alex Matisse (@eastforkpottery) had just posted Instagram photos of a breakthrough in his studio that had been brewing for months. Adam’s vague feelings of self-pity and isolation turned into feelings of community. He knew that a fellow artist was pushing through problems in the studio, which gave him the energy to continue.
The world is awash in social media. Barely a day goes by that I don’t hear somebody complaining about all of the options available. It’s true that it can be difficult to navigate the brambles of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and whatever else Silicon Valley is cooking up. A line has to be drawn somewhere.
Yet each of these “platforms” has a distinct advantage that makes them well-suited for some people and some situations. Visual artists have connected with Instagram because it is a visual medium. For the uninitiated, Instagram can be described as Facebook for photos. Each post by users revolves around a photo that can be accompanied by a wisp of text. Friends can “like” and comment on the photos, creating small conversations around images.
Adam was already using Instagram effectively, but the memory of Alex Matisse’s late-night studio breakthrough and the conversation that it generated stuck with him. He began to ask himself how the visual and social components of Instagram could be leveraged to create an actual event with real-world impact.
Along with friends in the ceramics world, Adam also followed a handful of people in the surfing and skating worlds. Through following professional skater Tony Hawk, Adam soon learned that Hawk sometimes connected with his more than 1.1 million followers through something he called “finders keepers,” where he would stash a full, autographed skateboard that he had been using for the past few months and leave visual clues for his Instagram followers about its whereabouts. The first person to find the skateboard got to keep it. A budding event was beginning to emerge. Adam gathered together 35 friends in the winter of 2013 and decided to do “finders keepers” with ceramics at the annual NCECA conference in Houston, Texas. The event titled Hide-N-Seekah and the Instagram handle @hidenseekah were born.
Anyone can use social media to show off pictures of a great meal or a cute baby, but it takes a certain kind of creativity to fully exploit the potential of a social media platform. As it turns out, Instagram is peculiarly well-suited toward crazy scavenger hunts involving ceramic objects. Here is how @hidenseekah was put together. First, Adam decided not to have the @hidenseekah Instagram account give clues to the whereabouts of the hidden pottery. Instead, followers of @hidenseekah who want to find the pottery have to follow all of the potters that are followed by @hidenseekah. In turn, the participating potters all let their followers know about the contest, which encouraged their followers to follow other @hidenseekah participants. The ceramics world, which could charitably be described as “wary” of social media, experienced an immediate Instagram boom.
Each @hidenseekah participant saw their Instagram following shoot up by around 500 users, which broadened their audience and immediately connected them to like-minded ceramic enthusiasts (not to mention potential customers and collaborators). During the lead-up to the conference, each potter teased their audience with images of the piece that was to be given away, ramping up the tension for the actual event in Houston.
The @hidenseekah giveaways certainly created a “buzz” for all of the participants and the contest itself. The whole point of the event was to create a groundswell of community that would encourage sharing of information, techniques, and inspirations behind the work of the participants (with the side benefit of drawing attention to their Instagram feeds for the longer term and helping them to share their followers). One unintended consequence of the project was that it forged alliances of “seekahs,” who split up tasks in order to more efficiently process the clues and find pots.
It is tempting to look at @hidenseekah through the lens of marketing or as just one more thing to keep track of in an onslaught of social media, but I believe that it should be viewed in terms of its
broader effects on the field of ceramics. In an age of farm-to-table and artisanal awareness of where our products come from, @hidenseekah is striking a blow for putting a face (and a personality) with objects meant for daily use. A glimmer of community on a lonely night in the studio has coalesced into a broader movement that will bring awareness and energy for the broader ceramics world.
Hide-N-Seekah will be back for the 2014 NCECA conference in Milwaukee. New artists have been brought on board, some of whom have already started to drop hints about this year’s offerings. This year’s crop of hidden pots will be sweeter, but the clues will also be more clever and obtuse. A new generation of artists has discovered how to fully exploit each social media platform to magnify their attributes. In addition to following @adamfieldpottery and @hidenseekah, then following all of the participating artists on Instagram to find hidden pottery, you can attend an NCECA panel on Friday, March 21st that involves Adam and colleagues like blog star Carole Epp, podcaster Ben Carter, and Twitter/Facebook maven Michael Kline for a frank discussion about the pros and cons of each social media tool.