10 Essentials to Bring to Your Next Art Ed Conference

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Earlier this year I attended my first ever National Art Ed Convention. As I proudly walked around New Orleans with my hot pink “First Time Attendee” ribbon stuck to my lanyard, I started to make some mental notes on a few items I was so thankful to have brought with me as well as a few I wish I had not forgotten. Whether you plan on attending your state conference or NAEA this year, make sure to keep this list handy!
art conference

1. A Phone

I’m sure that most of us almost always have our phones nearby, but I was certainly glad I had mine. Convention centers can be much larger than you imagine. Having a phone handy can help you find your colleagues, figure out your schedule, and give you a map of the city you are in. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can still use yours to stay in touch with friends and colleagues, make dinner reservations, or call a cab.

2. A Smart Device

Sure, many of us have phones that are smart devices, but sometimes the screen is just a bit too small for my liking. Taking an iPad or tablet to a conference can help you go paperless. I saw plenty of people taking notes on screens as they listened to the sessions being presented.

3. A Camera

Most of our smart devices and phones have cameras, but this photographer knows that a real camera can give you the quality and clarity you want. Your phone or another device may be fine for snapping photos during sessions, but you may want to capture the city and the conference experience itself with a much nicer camera.
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4. Good (but cute) Shoes

Okay, okay…they don’t have to be cute. I usually stand by the statement “one must suffer for beauty,” but I started to rethink that when my fashionable heels gave me blisters on my feet. In just one day at the conference, my FitBit was telling me I had walked 17,598 steps (for me that’s 7.36 miles!). Pick a pair of comfortable shoes that can stand up to the mileage.

5. A Jacket

It doesn’t matter if you’re in New Orleans or New York, the air conditioning in the conference hall may blast you back to the North Pole. Bring a jacket or wear layers so you can stay comfortable at all times.

6. A Backpack

You’ll most likely receive a free bag when you register for a conference. Exhibitors are happy to fill that bag with all the wonderful products they want you to buy. But I’ve found a better solution is to bring a backpack. You can still stuff it full of swag, but it is much easier on your body. Plus, you’ll have your hands free to grab as much swag as you can before they ask you to leave.

7. A Snack

Maybe it is just me, but everything seems more expensive when you’re in a big city. I’m pretty sure I paid $10 for a tall glass of ice and a teaspoon of Mint Julep one night. That being said, during the conference make sure to bring a snack with you. There were days that I was so busy with sessions that I didn’t even get to eat lunch. Luckily, I had snagged a few pieces of fruit from breakfast at my hotel to carry me over until dinner.

8. A Friend

Bring a colleague, friend, or spouse with you to the conference. It can cut down on costs and secure that you’ll always have someone to socialize with. Another bonus? You can go to twice the number of sessions and swap notes later!
bring a friend to the conference

9. Business Cards

Never in your life will you be around so many people who do what you do and want to connect. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pre-service art teacher or the president of the NAEA. You will want to have business cards on hand to help you network.

10. Address Labels

Sometimes swag is free and sometimes exhibitors ask for some contact information before they hand over the goods. If you plan on hitting up the exhibitor’s hall, brings some preprinted address labels that have your school information. Not only will this save you from getting a hand cramp, it will save you time and allow you to see more of what the conference has to offer.
If you’ve never gone to a conference before, I highly recommend it! If you’re nervous, check out this article from our archives to help conquer your fears!

What essential items do you always bring to conferences?

What did you forget to bring with you to a conference that you wish you hadn’t?


Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.


  • Amanda Kirkebye

    I agree TOTALLY with the address labels. When you do put your address on the exhibitors’/vendors’ lists, chat them up- they will give you more stuff!

  • mel

    1. A small sketchbook and doodle supplies (box of colored pencils, markers, or whatever you enjoy). Some of the sessions may be full of vital information, but lacking in visuals (funny fact, for a visual arts conference).. so it’s a perfect time to doodle around your notes to keep your attention focused. Or for when your lunch schedule doesn’t align with your friends, and you can sketch and eat.
    2. An underpacked/expanding suitcase, so you can take all that swag home with you if you came via airplane. Keep size limits in mind as you grab swag as well, so you don’t find yourself leaving it in the hotel garbage can as it’s too large/long (especially when some other local attendee could have used it).
    3. A few plastic sleeves (the kind you put in a three ring binder) to keep damp/wet samples in after you made something at a vendors booth. Nothing worse than walking around with both hands full of wet samples and missing out on something cool. You can take them out to dry once you’re sitting down at a class somewhere later.

    Don’t bring:
    4. A large sketchbook.. they’ll give you one.
    5. A shoulder bag.. they’ll give you one. They work well in conjunction with a backpack.. shoulder bag to grab and stuff in the vendors hall, and the backpack to put it all in once you’re seated waiting for the class to begin.

    • The plastic sleeve idea is genius. I always wondered what people were doing with the wet items they were creating. Thanks for adding to the list!

  • Mr. Post

    Sunglasses and a big hat – the paparazzi are relentless at these things…

  • Great tips! I am a first-year teacher headed to the CAEA conference next month.

  • paigec

    Your list is perfect.
    I love my business cards from moo. They are cute (you can even have printed with your own art work on the back) and so easy to pass on when you want to share contact info with those you meet.
    I start planning my wardrobe months in advance and the comfy…I will say they HAVE to be cute…shoes are a must. In San Diego I walked back to the hotel from an offsite workshop (over the freeway and through the woods) that did not impress. In NOLA I loved walking everywhere.
    I also think a collapsible, zip up bag is helpful. I brought home 34lbs of beads from NOLA and this saved me.
    Can’t wait for Chicago!