Community, Connection Draw Artists Together for ICON Event

Picture this: a conference that brings together professional illustrators, art directors, designers, educators, and editors to explore the business side of artistic life.

Author: Casey Gale       

ICON: The Illustration Conference

Date: June 29–July 2, 2022
Place: Kansas City, Missouri
2022 attendees: 611
Average Attendance: 700

Illustration by Carmen Segovia

Picture this: a conference that brings together professional illustrators, art directors, designers, educators, and editors for four days of education, networking, and a celebration of one another’s artistry. ICON: The Illustration Conference has been doing just that since 1999, and content at this year’s event touched on nearly every aspect of the artist’s life and challenges, according to Mark Heflin, ICON’s executive director.

“Main stage topics varied from lighthearted to working while undocumented,” Heflin said, as well as “mental health issues, abuse, and accountability in the art world.”

Painting the Town

Kansas City was a blank canvas for participants to explore — programming was spread out among the city’s most prominent arts locations. The Folly, Kansas City’s oldest historic theater, hosted ICON’s more than 30 main-stage presentations, while Kansas City Art Institute, alma mater of famed artists Thomas Hart Benton and Robert Rauschenberg, served as home base for the event’s numerous workshops, which included paper cutting, hosted by Kansas City–based Hallmark Cards, a publishing workshop with Ariel Richardson of Chronicle Books, and a course on illustrating expressive and stylized people with award-winning illustrator Tom Froese. The Atkins Auditorium at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art hosted two events: the Education Symposium, which aims to explore how educators can help art students find their perspectives and make a living, and Motion Commotion, a curated screening of animation and motion shorts representing “a vital segment of the illustration profession,” Heflin said. Meanwhile, ICON’s Gallery Show, which showcased more than 100 curated original art pieces made by event attendees, was held at Studios Inc, a nonprofit organization that offers three-year residencies to mid-career artists that is housed in the Torn Label Brewing Co., a trendy brewpub.

Roadshow KCMO, a one-night-only pop-up marketplace at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown Hotel, featured illustrations, comic works, zines, and more from 60-plus national and international exhibitors. The event was open to attendees as well as members of the public looking for some new prints to grace their walls.

“The most important takeaway from ICON is the sense of community and connection it provides,” Heflin said. “Many attendees work freelance and alone in their studios. With this isolation amplified during the pandemic, coming together in person felt more important than ever.”

Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene.

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