2017 ATLA Annual Conference Wrap Up

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Submitted by Denise McFarlin, ATLA Meeting Specialist

The 2017 ATLA Annual Conference, Southern Harmony: The Human Touch in the Digital Age, was held in Atlanta, Georgia, June 14-17. The conference was a tremenous success and attracted a crowd of 300 members, exhibitors, and international guests. With the help of the Local Host Committee, comprised of representatives from Columbia Theological Seminary, Pitts Theology Library-Candler School of Theology-Emory University, Erskine Theological Seminary, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center – The Interdenominational Theological Center, and Mercer University-McAfee School of Theology, we experienced “Southern Harmony “ in every aspect of the conference.

Held at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, the location provided everything imaginable within walking distance. It was a mix of premium shopping, a range of dining options from upscale to fast food, and for the young at heart, a carnival. In addition, we had great programming, speakers, and excursions that only complimented our stay. Our Local Hosts did a wonderful job on all of the ideas and events that were prepared for our conference attendees.

A Conference of Firsts

A first this year was the two-hour opening reception with the exhibitors on Wednesday evening. This change allowed everyone to take advantage of meeting new and old friends as they visited and met with all the exhibitors throughout the evening. In addition to Wednesday night, attendees had opportunities to eat breakfast with exhibitors on Thursday and Friday morning.

Also unique this year was the all-conference evening event at Emory, which included tours of the newly constructed Pitts Theology Library, a Sacred Harp Sing, and a reception featuring a wide variety of delicious burritos.

Invited Speakers Stimulate Conversation and Promote the Conference Theme

The general sessions, including the plenary speakers and all-conference lunch, greatly enriched the week with dynamic speakers and thought-provoking presentations. The opening plenary speaker was Rev. Dr. Christian Scharen, Vice President of Applied Research, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Theological Education, Auburn Theological Seminary of New York. Friday’s plenary speaker was Loretta Parham, CEO & Director, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center. The Saturday Closing Luncheon was presented by Heather Joseph, Executive Director, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition).

On Thursday, we had an all-conference lunch that highlighted the recent study by ITHAKA S+R, “Research Practices of Religious Studies Scholars.” During lunch, representatives from ITHAKA S+R and ATLA provided presentations on ATLA’s role in sponsoring the report and the importance of the project to ATLA and its members. The conversation continued after lunch with a special session from Roger Schonfeld, Director, Libraries and Scholarly Communication Program, ITHAKA S+R, and others involved in this project. Learn more about the study here.

Specially-Made Tote Bags are a Big Hit!

I cannot omit the fact that this year the conference buzz was all about the “tote bags” that were made by re:loom. This not-for-profit employs and empowers homeless and low-income individuals through weaving beautifully-designed products out of upcycled materials. The bags helped to inspire buzzing conversation among attendees and create networking opportunities for this great not-for-profit. Read more about how this partnership came about.

Something for Everyone

The pre-conference workshops were compelling and provided a great start to the professional development of all that attended. With over one hundred additional papers, conversation groups, workshops, interest groups, panels, listen and learns, poster sessions, exhibitor showcases, denominational meetings, diverse worship services, and committee/regional group lunches, it is safe to say that the 2017 ATLA Annual Conference, once again, provided something for everyone.

Along with the many programs, attendees also took advantage of excursions to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Martin Luther King Center, and a baseball game at the new SunTrust Park Stadium.

A Big Thank You

Finally, I would like to offer a huge thank you to everyone that contributed to the overall success of our conference: the Conference Committee members, the Board of Directors, our speakers, presiders, regional, denominational, and interest group members, ATLA staff, and all the ATLA members. I feel extremely fortunate, proud, and grateful to be a part of this great association.

And as always, we are already planning our next ATLA conference. Join us in Indianapolis, Indiana, for Connecting at the Crossroads, Creative Collaboration in a Changing Landscape, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, June 13-16, 2018. The Conference Committee will launch the proposal form soon, so stay tuned for further details via the 2018 conference website, Facebook, and other ATLA communications.

Click here to see more photos from the conference.

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