On The Scene at the First Annual Creative Works Conference For Graphic Designers 

New conference brings in veteran designers from across the country.

Memphis has an undisputed reputation as a music city, but based on the attendance at last weekend's first-ever Creative Works Conference for graphic designers, the city may also soon be known as an arts hub.

Or at least that's what the conference's organizers are hoping for. The Creative Works Conference was organized by a set of Memphis designers to allow young creatives to bounce ideas off of veteran designers from all over the country. The organizers hope this creates a more nurturing community for Memphis artists.

More than 175 people crowded into the Visible Music College downtown for the three-day conference that featured pop-up shops, interactive lectures, food trucks, Wiseacre beer, and lots of coffee. Rick Trotter, the voice of the Memphis Grizzlies, was on-hand to give an arena-sized welcome to each speaker, pronouncing names like the Creative Works Conference was a sold-out sporting event.

Most of the designers who lectured on the first day had cut their teeth designing rock-and-roll posters and merchandise for bands, a theme that Creative Works founder Josh Horton said was reoccurring throughout the weekend.

"I started off working for Solid State [Records] and Tooth and Nail Records in 2002, and that's how I met a lot of these people. We've stayed in touch over the years, so it wasn't hard convincing them to come speak in Memphis," Horton said.  

click to enlarge Designer Clark Orr speaks at the Creative Works Conference. - CHRIS SHAW
  • Chris Shaw
  • Designer Clark Orr speaks at the Creative Works Conference.

Among Friday's speakers was the Nashville artist behind the beer labels and other artwork for Wiseacre Brewery, Rachelle Briggs. Like most of the speakers at the conference, Briggs' presentation could be described as equal parts "look what I've done" and "you can do this too." Although Briggs worked for Wiseacre, she was one of the few designers who had ties to Memphis, as most speakers over the weekend were from farther away.

"I worked with a few of the speakers in Seattle for three years, and they just weren't coming to Memphis because they didn't have a reason to," Horton said. "I wanted to create an excuse for them to have to come to Memphis and an excuse for people like me to get to talk to them and become inspired."

Other notable speakers included Sasha Barr, the art director at Sub Pop Records; Dana Tanamachi-Williams, a designer whose resume includes work for Tommy Hilfiger and Yahoo; and the two-person design team Invisible Creature, whose client list includes Target, Nike, and Google. Invisible Creature has also been nominated for four Grammys for music packaging.

Local web developer Will Gatlin said the conference was an invaluable learning experience and that he was proud that Memphis could host such an event.

"One of the best messages I heard over and over this weekend is that people shouldn't be afraid to fail," Gatlin said. "I think failure is a pretty common theme in the creative world, and I think Memphis as a city could gain a lot from the idea that sometimes you can turn a failure into art."

Now that the conference is over, Horton said he plans to continue creating a nurturing culture for young designers in Memphis.

"We are losing talented people because I don't think they feel at home in Memphis. I don't think they feel valued for whatever reason," Horton said. "If creative people are going to stay here, we have to love on them so they will stick around and make our city a better place."

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