As with most goodbyes, this moment is bittersweet. I am very excited to pass the chores of being chair onto my successor and claw some time back for my own research and other endeavors. At the same time, I have been honored to serve as chair of SIGGRAPH and generally enjoyed the role; I certainly learned a lot. One of the downsides of the one-year term is that it takes a little while to settle in, or maybe that was just the pandemic throwing everything off. I do wish I had started writing these essays sooner, but c’est la vie.
SIGGRAPH has accomplished a whole awful lot over the last year. SIGGRAPH has made incremental changes over time, but the pandemic forced us to make *huge* changes very quickly. All our conferences went virtual in 2020. It was an incredible feat and all our conference organizers deserve immense kudos. We did tons of experimentation and quickly identified some best practices. Sure, we lost money. But, through luck and shrewd negotiation (major props to Ashley Cozzi and Cindy Stark) we lost a small fraction of our liability.
We also took advantage of everyone being virtual (and no travel costs) to bring more voices into our strategy meetings. We call them “strategy” meetings, but that is probably a misnomer; we do not generate 5-year plans to put on a shelf, instead, these are meetings where we discuss the long-term future of SIGGRAPH and how we should allocate and *create* resources to improve our organization. We try to identify weaknesses, opportunities, etc. So, because we did not need to pay for travel, we could invite almost everyone. The meetings were a bit unwieldy at first, but we hit our stride and they turned out to be really productive. They did not serve all the purposes of in-person meetings—there is no replacing breaking bread with another human—but they did give us directions forward.
Three major initiatives came out of the meetings. First, the establishment of an Online Events Committee. This committee proved too big a lift for our first chair and we are in search of a replacement, perhaps co-chairs given the large scope; maybe we need a committee the size of one of our major conferences. Second, was the idea of online communities organized around similar interests; not unlike chapters, but being virtual and based upon shared interests rather than geography. Third, was a better approach to membership. The topic of membership is perennial at SIGGRAPH meetings. I have been a member since my first SIGGRAPH in 2001 when I got a discount on the SIGGRAPH Video Review. I’ve probably lapsed (I still don’t always pay my electric bill on time), but I am of that older generation where you belong to your professional organization as a matter of course. I am also a member of my local NPR station and give them $6 a month, which is more than I can give SIGGRAPH.
Let me dwell on membership for a moment. I am not a member of SIGGRAPH because of some transactional benefit; I get reduced registration from my ACM membership and can access the digital library content through my university (or, like everyone, for free through OpenTOC). I am a member of SIGGRAPH because the organization does good things. And those good things affect me in positive ways. SIGGRAPH has published and archived the majority of my publications. I have made many friends and colleagues through the organization’s efforts. SIGGRAPH has made my professional life better. These are the same reasons I volunteer for SIGGRAPH; I am always surrounded by interesting people and the work is very fulfilling.
In addition to these major initiatives, we have done other stuff too. Our standing committees have organized many virtual events over the past year; DEI, Digital Arts, and Chapters have led many of these efforts. We also created a new series, “A Conversation With…” By all reports, these conversations have been fun and low-pressure. I am certain there are more things in the works. In retrospect, I think SIGGRAPH did a pretty great job of leveraging the upsides of the pandemic and has remained vibrant and inspiring despite the challenges.
For those in the technical community, just yesterday the Executive Committee approved a proposal for “Conference Papers.” This idea has been around for years, but finally, there was momentum behind it. Mashhuda Glencross deserves a shout-out for leading the team that put together the proposal; it was an enormous amount of work. Thanks to all of you who filled out the survey. View the approved proposal.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank Paul Strauss and Mashhuda Glencross for their service on the Executive Committee as their terms end tonight as well. And a major thanks to Jessica Hodgins, who has served on the EC for nine (yes, nine!) years, first as a director-at-large, then as President, and finally as past-President. I could not have asked for a wiser sage to help me along this past year.
As my final thoughts as SIGGRAPH chair, I want to say that I have gained so much more from SIGGRAPH than what I have contributed; that is the paradox of being part of something. Please become a member, please volunteer, please engage. You will probably find yourself feeling the same way.
fare thee well,