Welcome Host-City Residents to Your Conference

Local Invite Associations Now July/August 2018 Issue By: Samantha Whitehorne

One association took the unusual route of inviting local residents to its meeting, in addition to its usual attendees. A look at how the strategy paid off.

Local tours aren’t usually the highlight of a conference, but for the Society of Architectural Historians, they’re an essential part of the program. At its 2018 Annual International Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, in April, SAH offered 26 local tours over the course of its five-day meeting. With access to seldom-seen areas and specialized tour guides, attendees took in parks, universities, neighborhoods, and other notable elements of Twin Cities architecture.

But it wasn’t only SAH members who had a chance to explore. In each host city, SAH opens up its tours to the local community—and welcomes them to a half-day seminar, too.

“Inviting the public in makes them part of the conversation,” says Christopher Kirbabas, director of programs for SAH. “It’s one thing for our attendees to look at a building or a space, but when you include the people who live there—and hear how they use it, how they view it—it brings a whole other component to the experience.”

Assembling so many trips is a complicated process, but at each of its conference locations, SAH selects one or two members who live in the area to serve as local chairs. Those members develop tour ideas, hammer out plans, and secure entry to offbeat sites. “They’re experts in their field and in their hometown,” says Kirbabas.

SAH members have first dibs, but once the registration window closes, any remaining space is opened up to the general public. Tickets for this year’s tours cost anywhere from $20 to $70.

SAH has also started inviting locals to its Saturday morning seminar. Organizers choose a topic related to the host city and book local speakers to discuss it. For St. Paul, it was “Confluences: Place, Change, and Meaning on the Mississippi,” which focused on sustaining connections between the changing riverfront and the culturally diverse communities that make up the Twin Cities. SAH charged locals $10 to attend the seminar.

“I think the program is a really great way for the local community to realize that people all over the world value their hometown,” says Kirbabas. “Plus, it gives them a chance to share their perspectives with our members.”

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Meetings Memo: Local Invite."] 

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.