11/2 Update on Conference
Friday, November 2, 2018
November 2, 2018
ASTR’s 2018 Program Chairs (Kirsten Pullen, Christin Essin, and Chase Bringardner), the Vice President for Conferences, Executive Committee, and Ewald staff have worked very hard this week to determine the best course of action for our 2018 annual conference. At present, the strike is still in effect at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter hotel and negotiations are continuing between the union representatives at the 23 hotels striking and Marriott’s management. We have been in touch with both the hotel management and the union throughout the week, with calls every other day to update us on progress and changes in the negotiations. As of our conversations yesterday afternoon, neither side believes negotiations will conclude in the coming days.
ASTR’s leadership is still committed to supporting the workers by not crossing the picket line to hold the conference. Many of you have sent us messages over the last week supporting this choice, while also acknowledging the difficulties this poses both financially and logistically. At this time, we are still committed to holding the conference if we can find an alternative venue that allows us to retain most of our programming. Although we may accomplish this differently than in previous years, we aim to find a space that would allow us to achieve the fundamental goal of our conference—to share our scholarship, hear the latest work in our field, and acknowledge those who have received awards from the Society.
Briana Baker and Laurie Krueger, Ewald staff members, are in close communication with the few available hotels that may suit our needs. In addition to space considerations, our selection has focused on union hotels that are close to downtown and the airport, and that offer a room rate at the same price or slightly lower than the Westin rate. We will not hold the conference in a hotel that has a higher room rate. The hotels we are considering are also near a variety of food options. Although our choices are limited, we remain committed to certain priorities that ease the financial burden of attending the conference.
Typically, contract negotiations with hotels take many weeks and even months to finalize; we are asking Briana and Laurie to accomplish this task in a manner of days. In addition, none of the few hotels available fully meet our needs. Therefore, Briana will work closely with Jill Stevenson, VP for Conferences, as well as Christin, Chase, and Kirsten to assess options carefully and determine if we can find a space that meets enough of our needs to move ahead.
We will know by Wednesday, November 7th at the very latest if we have an alternative venue. As soon as we know, we will announce all the necessary information needed to change your lodging plans. If we cannot find a venue that suits our minimum needs, we will cancel the conference. We have not broken our contract with the Westin in case the labor negotiations resolve before we contract with another hotel; therefore, please do not cancel your Westin room reservations at this time.
On a two-hour conference call last night, the EC, Program Chairs, and Ewald discussed at length the implications of moving the conference at this late date. These include logistical complications, but also the tremendous additional labor this will require of the Program Chairs, staff, and VP for Conferences. There are also financial implications for the organization; our Treasurer, E.J. Westlake, made those plain to the group. Against these we weighed the labor that has already gone into planning, the work of members to prepare for the conference, and the financial commitment attendees have already made with respect to travel and visas. None of the available options are ideal and all have a cost. In consultation with the Program Chairs, the EC voted to move ahead with the plan outlined above.
Moving our conference to another space at this late date will inevitably result in some shifts in the schedule, cancellations of certain elements, and—inevitably—mistakes during the conference. We will make every effort to run a smooth conference, but more than ever we will need your support, flexibility, and understanding. A change like this gives us a chance to return to core priorities and to remember what our conference, no matter the city or theme, always truly offers—the chance to see one another and socialize, to learn about new work in the field, to offer and receive mentorship, and to receive thoughtful feedback and honors for our scholarship. If we move to another hotel, those priorities will guide our work.
We hope you remain excited to attend the conference in whatever form it takes and to join us as we make choices that reaffirm our values, celebrate our work, and create community. We ask for your patience as Briana, Jill, Kirsten, Chase, and Christin devote the next few days to researching space for the conference.
If you have any concerns or inquiries, please send them directly to me. Thank you all!
President, American Society for Theatre Research