Skeptics of Oz or Atheists in a Haunted Church
May 29, 2012
Skeptics of Oz was the second large scale free to attend freethinker conference in Wichita. Following the success of Rapture Day we decided to plan for another Spring conference with more speakers across multiple days. The focus of this conference was considerably different from Rapture Day, and focused more on science, skepticism, and living as a non-believer rather than dealing with religion directly. Our speakers included Phil Plait, James Underdown, J Anderson Thomson, Darrel Ray, Abbie Smith, Carol Fiore, Phil Ferguson, and James Croft.
This event started as an Air Capital Skeptics event, but it quickly became the first event of the newly formed Wichita Coalition of Reason. We were in the early stages of forming a local Coalition of Reason and planning the billboard campaign when it was decided that the billboard campaign would work better if it was tied to a local event. The billboard campaign was quite successful and we got plenty of positive local coverage. This coverage lead to a significant surge in both conference registrations and new contacts with coalition member groups.
Just like Rapture Day, this event started with a $0 budget. During the early planning we knew we were going to need much more assistance from sponsors and donors in order to bring all the speakers we wanted. United Coalition of Reason was our largest sponsor by far. They provided the billboards as well as covering the cost of bringing in Phil Plait as one of the speakers. We also received quite a bit of help from the usual suspects, the Secular Student Alliance, the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, and Polaris Financial Planning. While we had a large number of individual donors, the largest of these donations came from more rural individuals that really feel isolated. More than being a good source of funding, these individuals also get some of the largest benefit of these types of events. I would encourage all groups to try and reach out to those people to let them know they aren’t alone.
It is vitally important to start the planning for large scale events as early as possible. We got incredibly lucky when planning Rapture Day with only a few months lead time. This time with almost nine months lead time we were almost unable to find a venue that wasn’t booked. Luckily for us a new venue had opened the week we were trying to find a venue. It was an old abandoned church that had been converted into a theater and declared haunted by the local paranormal group. We couldn’t have asked for a better place. The earlier planning begins the more options will be available when things begin to change, and things will always change. A second critical aspect here is to not get locked into extremely rigid plans. Having a solid framework of how things should go needs to be paired with the ability to rapidly respond to issues as they come up during execution. Rigid plans will only serve to frustrate everyone when things don’t go off exactly as they should.
The event was a significant success for our groups. We had a modest growth in attendance from last year with about 175 people attending, but we had incredible growth financially and our groups now have plenty of operating funds to continue with more activities during the year as well as a better starting point for any future conferences.
Some of the most significant feedback we received was for our talks more focused on living as a non-believer. Carol Fiore’s talk on Grieving without God and the story of her husband’s death received a great deal of praise. This event was her first conference as well as her “coming out” officially as an atheist. I hope to see her attending and speaking at more conferences going forward. James Croft’s talk about reason as a moral value was also very well received and inspired a few to come out to their families as atheists. However,perhaps the most talked about presentation was Darrel Ray’s, where we all learned that ducks are very rapey animals…
Note: For other Midwest groups, Spring may not be the best time to do these. The day after Rapture Day saw the Joplin tornado, and the weekend prior to Skeptics of Oz saw a ridiculous number of tornadoes across Oklahoma and Kansas to include some significant damage in Wichita itself. It is only a matter of time before we start getting blamed for the storms.
This post originally appeared here on the Air Capital Skeptics blog.