I had a business trip to San Francisco recently so I took advantage of being in the Bay Area to visit the Claremont Club and Spa. Leah used airline miles to get herself out there to meet up with me. She asked the hotel for a discount code to book a room for the weekend and they graciously comped our stay so we could experience the Conference venue firsthand. I saw this whole experience as a great way to share the adventure of Conference planning with you, our membership!
The hotel is really a beautiful resort nestled in the hills between the two cities of Berkeley and Oakland, which are both historical for things like civil rights, worker rights, GLBTQA+ rights, music, movements, resistance and change. It’s the home of Chez Panisse, the epicenter of the American slow food/farm-to-table movement. At the foot of the hotel, there is the Berkeley Tennis Club. There are thick, luscious trees and greenery everywhere, making it seem like it's remote, far away from urbanity. But looks are deceiving. Less than a 15 minute walk away you’ll find yourself in the midst of a vast array of shops, bars, and restaurants!
We met with Leslie Salmon-Zhu, a founding member of the IFVP who has never let her passion or membership lapse. The hotel’s Limewood restaurant and bar was the perfect place for lunch - not really your standard hotel bar - where locals come to dine and drink so you feel like you are part of the community. I thoroughly enjoyed my burger while Leah and Leslie had scrumptious looking salads. The staff was warm and kind. It was a great preview to how we’ll all be treated during the Conference.
After lunch we drove about 10 minutes up the hill to get an expansive view of the entire Bay Area, with the Golden Gate bridge to the North, looking at San Francisco, Treasure Island and the Bay bridge and then Oakland and Berkeley ringed by all the gorgeous swooping hills covered with nature’s green touch. It’s a marvelous view, very California in all the ways!
That night we had dinner with a few local members. Lynn Carruthers, former President, hosted us in her home (did you know she has a 40 year old parrot?) and made us a lovely vegetarian dinner. We were delighted with a fine meal, nice wine, and the company of Alece Birnbach, Emily Shepard, Anthony Weeks, Leslie, Leah and myself. We walked down memory lane, sharing experiences, and making wishes for the Conference. You know you’re with your people when the dinner table doesn’t have linen on it but paper and markers. Here are some doodles from that night. Leah even said, “you know those questions about who would you have dinner with if you could have dinner with anyone? This is one of those dinners!”
The next day we met the hotel’s event planner and walked through all the spaces and rooms we rented for the Conference. In all, we’ll have access to 9 rooms - 2 ballrooms, a board room with a sitting area, an open space in the hotel, and meeting rooms, every single one with windows and views! The hotel has a sweet little coffee shop (with oat milk and overnight oats with berries!) and heavenly looking pastries that both Leah and Lynn approved of. We toured the grounds, through the Athletic Club and the pools, and all the meeting spaces. The view of the Bay from any of these areas is always there, prominent, showcased, and hard to ignore.
We also explored the neighborhood. Claremont is at the foot of the hills before becoming mountain so it’s a short walk to Ashby St. There are two ways off the Claremont property, through Tunnel St, which leads you down to Ashby, or you can go through the “back” and exit by the Berkeley Tennis club entrance on Russell and Domingo.
Right below the tennis courts is a small block with basic necessities: Baker/Pastry Chef Frank Sally’s La Fournée, which has a nice reputation in the area for serving up authentically tasty and buttery pastries, nice breads, and pizzas. Next to that is Peet’s Coffee, which is a nice change from Starbucks (Peet’s is the original craft coffee shop). Next to that is Rick and Ann’s Restaurant, a great breakfast and lunch diner. Leah and I ate our last breakfast there and savored simple diner style food. Their thing is green onions and sour cream on the roasted potatoes. I can attest to the deliciousness and crispiness of their bacon.
There are two walkable areas with plenty of food, drink, and things to admire and shop for. If you walk straight down Ashby, you’ll come to the Elmwood neighborhood on College Avenue in about 15 minutes, where there are a few blocks clustered with restaurants (Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, burgers, etc.) and bars. There is a really cute wine bar next to a really cute ice cream shop next to a cute party store that had a cute unicorn display. And people walk their cute dogs in and out of all the establishments. We couldn’t resist the lovely, little, (and popular) spot Bakers and Commons. I enjoyed a big cafe au lait and in true California style, I had the avocado toast with bacon. If you stay on College, you’ll walk through to grocery stores until you come to the second walkable neighborhood named Rockridge. We found a lot more and interesting restaurants, boutiques, and great little cafes. We came across the Food Hall market that was packed with bakery, cafe, cheese, pasta, meats, deli, and wine counters. The wine area held a great selection of old and new world and we can attest that it is easy to put together a nice hotel room picnic with the market’s offerings of snacky type things, both salty and sweet.
On Saturday afternoon, we met up with other conference volunteers, Lynn Carruthers, Leslie Salmon-Zhu, Malgosia Kostecka, Nevada Lane, and we were introduced to the almighty and fierce Bob Horn. What a fun time! He shared his visual notes from a 1999 planning committee. I can’t imagine what it was like back then to run a volunteer conference. I am literally awed that we are here 21 years later with these people, planning the 25th anniversary and still being led by volunteers. Even with a bit more access to budget we still have a long way to go to shift from a volunteer run operation to a paid conference model but that is whole other blog post! I can only imagine how Leslie feels. She shared with us how she kept pushing the idea that all the visual practitioners of the Bay Area come together to create a volunteer organization that would support the business interests of visual facilitators. I asked her if she ever imagined IFVP being what it is today and she replied, point blank, “Yes, I always did.”
Under Malgosia’s patient facilitation, we broke down what kind of volunteer roles will be needed on site for the Conference to run smoothly. Some of those roles will be filled by scholars but we will still need an entire team of member volunteers to raise their hands. Leslie and Malgosia will keep the helpers organized and properly scheduled and make sure volunteers can attend the sessions they are most interested in. They’ll operate a centralized volunteer booth to ensure this year’s Conference runs seamlessly.
I’ll close this all off here with the reminder that we are an all-volunteer organization. We do not get paid for our time as Board Directors or as the Conference planners. Event planners have been hired in the past and that is a very expensive service. Under previous President, Jenny Trautman, our board chose to move to a volunteer-based model so that any profit would go back to the IFVP to allow the growth the membership wants to see, to upgrade our website, and to pay all the expenses of running our organization. While it was a wonderful gathering, the 2017 Decatur Conference actually put IFVP in debt and it took us two years to dig out from that hole.
To put it into simple terms, Leah and I donated over 40 hours this weekend to scouting, planning, meeting, and organizing. We do it because we feel a sense of duty to plan properly and ensure our 25th anniversary celebration will be a spectacular and memorable experience. We do it because it is in service to our chosen profession and career. And, we do it for you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for trusting us and, as I said in the video, “this year’s conference is going to be a really AMAZING and unforgettable experience.” We invite you to join us and think about the ways you can contribute to your chosen field and career.
IFVP, President of the Board of Directors