Creator Camp Chicago: An Un-Conference for Creative People

Neil Gorman and Mare Swallow

CAR: How did the idea for Creator Camp Chicago originate? Did you start with a clear vision of what you'd like it to be or did the focus evolve?

Neil: Mare and I had met at a new media conference in Ottawa, Canada, and we discovered that we both lived in the Chicago area.I thought Mare was groovy and I think she thought that I did not suck, because we decided we should hang out after we got back to Chicago.  

A few months later, a mutual friend of ours was in town and we all met up. We got to talking about what we were up to, and I said something about planning a conference in Chicago. Mare said I should email her my ideas, and I did.... After that things just started to happen.

Mare: We thought we started with a clear vision, but it evolved organically. We talked about conferences and models we liked, but also what we didn’t like. We were inspired by Bob Goyetche (founder of the original CreatorCamp, and co-creator of Podcasters Across Borders) whose credo is, “Create a conference you would like to attend.” So we did—we started our own Creator Camp (The first one in the States! We beat Boston! Woo-hoo!).

As far as how it originated, I remember it differently: Neil emailed me and said, 'You seem cool. Do you want to start a conference?' I said 'Yes,' and followed up with a phone call. Neil and I had hung out but didn’t know each other terribly well. I was flattered, and asked Neil why he approached me. 'You’re not crazy,' he said. All joking aside, it’s actually worked very well for us. This is essentially a business partnership, and I think if we had had a history prior to starting Creator Camp Chicago, I think it would not have worked.

Your emphasis is on creative people sharing knowledge and ideas. What opportunities will Creator Camp present for doing this?

Neil: We are going to have people talking about different ways of creating, and then after that the speakers will all be sitting at tables. The people who attend the event can then just move from table to table and work with each of the speakers. Sometimes they will be making stuff, sometimes they will be asking questions, each speaker can do what ever he/she wants to do to get people’s creative mojo moving.  

Mare: Also, the hope is that some (I hate this word) networking will happen. At a bare minimum, I want creators to learn new ways to look at their work, put their ideas into practice, and even make money. One of our speakers has made more money during the recession than before—and it’s all because she sought out new, creative ways to work and sell her work.

How did you select your speakers and what sorts of topics will they cover?

Neil: I knew I wanted to talk about creativity and brewing tea Gongfu Cha (AKA Kung Fu Tea) style, which, by the way, is double-plus awesome.... But other than that, we put out a call for speakers and got some really good ideas back from people. So I guess we sort of outsourced topic creation to people who had the desire to speak.  

Mare: I reached out to creative types I knew who weren't afraid of public speaking. I specifically was looking for people who were successful, whether it was in their art, their business, or both.

Are there particular things that distinguish Creator Camp from other arts expos/conferences?

Neil: I’d say it is sort of a hybrid of a "normal" conference where speakers take to a main stage to disseminate information to a group of people, and an "un-conference" where there is lots of stuff going one at the same time and people “vote with their feet” by moving from place to place.  

Mare: I actually don’t like the words “expo” and “conference,” but Neil told me we couldn't call this an Un-Conference. How are we different? For one, it’s at a bar. The speakers’ talks are short, there are frequent breaks, and I expect this to be more casual—learning, but in a fun environment. Learning should be fun. Oh, and it's really affordable. ($15 before May 1!)

What has been one of the challenges in putting on an event like this?

Neil: We both have day jobs, bills to pay, running around to do, and all those tend to get in the way of doing cool stuff.  

Mare: Ditto what Neil said. Plus, getting PR and getting the word out has been a hurdle. I wish we had a PR intern.

What has been an especially rewarding aspect of planning Creator Camp?

Neil: Coming into contact with really interesting people with cool ideas.  

Mare: I second that. Hearing what our speakers have to say. Chicago has such a wealth of talented, hardworking people, and I’m really sick of Chicago being overlooked. Also, working with Neil, and all it has taught me in a short amount of time, has been very rewarding. I’m really grateful to Neil for approaching me. Creating Creator Camp has inspired me to do new things with my business—and take my career in a new direction.


The first-ever Creator Camp Chicago — a half-day conference devoted to the exchange of creativity, ideas, and knowledge—took place May 14, 2011, at The Bottom Lounge. 

Neil Gorman is a human male who has managed to ride the Earth around the sun 33+ times without falling off. Currently, he works as a teacher/therapist at a therapeutic day school in Bolingbrook Illinois, and he is the owner of Scholar’s Tea. Neil likes to make tea, was attacked by a monkey in the Appalachians (seriously), and is very good at finding future ex-girlfriends.  

Mare Swallow is a professional speaker and corporate coach. In short, she fixes lousy communicators. Her presentation skills book, Stop Whining, Start Speaking is currently seeking an agent and/or publisher. Visit her at

Published by CAR_Laura on Tue, 04/26/2011 - 11:17am
Updated on Wed, 02/24/2016 - 11:12am