Beyond the Classroom: Attending the Adobe MAX Creativity Conference

It’s almost unbelievable that we (that is, myself and fellow student and conference attendee, Margaret) have the opportunity to write a first-hand account of Adobe MAX—The Creativity Conference.

We have to thank Loyola University Maryland for this invaluable experience and learning journey. Packed with diverse personalities and creative wisdom, inspiration and information, the conference and our week in Southern California is one we won't soon forget.

By the time we had packed a bag or boarded a plane, we had already had a full-fledged learning experience about what it takes to take the leap and chase a goal…

A view of San Diego from the plane Looking toward San Diego from atop a building

This all started with an email that I nearly deleted. I was sitting in my Studio Lighting class one day in October when I received an email from Adobe with the subject line, “Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late.” I first thought it was spam, but realized it was a promotion to register for Adobe MAX. The Creativity Conference. November 2–4. Just a month away.

I had no idea Adobe held conferences. I clicked through the email and then the conference website, and then said to my teacher, Professor Skeen, jokingly, “Maybe I should see if Loyola would sponsor Margaret and me to attend this thing in San Diego.” Professor Skeen nodded and said, “Do it.”

Exploring San Diego, looking at an interesting tree

First things first, we had to take a stab at writing a descriptive and thorough proposal—a learning experience in and of itself—to send to various departments on campus to explain our objective, to inform them about the conference, and to tell them what we anticipated gleaning from the conference if we were fortunate enough to attend, and what we planned to bring back to and share with the Loyola community.

We submitted our proposal to Loyola’s Center for the Humanities. Rejection is never easy, but the Center of Humanities recommended we present our proposal to the department of communication to see if they could help us in any way. We were recommended further to Jeffrey Barnett, Ph.D., professor of psychology and associate dean, who enthusiastically heard our proposal and offered us a generous sum toward what we were requesting for funding.

In the end, we were able to secure funding from the Associate Dean’s Development Fund, the department of communication, and Education for Life to cover our travels, our accommodations, and our conference ticket at the student ticket price.

The only thing standing between us and Adobe MAX was finding a cross-country flight and a San Diego hotel room…

Sunset at the beach

Two flights and a four-hour layover in Dallas later, we were in San Diego. We had booked the cheapest round-trip tickets possible, which meant leaving Baltimore at an ungodly hour and stopping for seven hours in Las Vegas on our return trip.

It also meant we arrived a day before the conference started. And we took full advantage of our bonus day on the West Coast.

A cafe with a sign saying 'Cafe Coyote' Downtown San Diego, with a sign saying 'Historic Heart of San Diego'

We woke up early to explore what we could of San Diego and we took the city by storm. We visited Coronado, Hotel del Coronado, Balboa Park, the Museum of Photographic Art, Cafe Coyote, Old Town, the Whaley House, and La Jolla. We saw sea lions, Belmont Park, Mission Beach, Sunset Cliffs, and *deep breath* went to In-N-Out Burger—all in a single day.

We took a combined 1,800 photographs that one day and flooded Instagram with multiple posts a day of the beauty of the West Coast.

Our trip was amazing—and we hadn't even gone to the conference yet.

Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, kicked off the conference with a keynote that rattled and inspired us for the entire week: through every session, on our walks home, on our rides on the hotel escalator at the end of each day. It made us ponder about how much creativity is within ourselves, and how much we want to share with others.

The world around us is changing faster and more intensely than ever before. I think we could easily dwell on what's wrong in the world around us and feel hopeless. Or, instead, we could choose power: the power of creativity and design to make this world a better place. The power to captivate us with breathtaking color and to immerse us in the beauty of art on display… to teach people young and old and to raise awareness and advocate for change... to connect to the human condition halfway around the world and to move us and change our prospective… and to bring surprise, joy, laughter, and make someone remember this exact moment. This work, and all the work you do, reflects the artistry, the craft, the fashion, of people who are never satisfied with the status quo.

We thought further about this as we sat in sessions featuring industry leaders talking about their own work, and how they believe they have impacted others with their thoughts, ideas, and passion projects. Ten thousand MAX attendees heard from designer Zac Posen, photographer Lynsey Addario, sculptor Janet Echelman, and writer/director Quentin Tarantino.

Student sitting on the floor looking through conference materials The stage at the Adobe Max conference. The backdrop is filled with lots of colorful images. A photography booth at the conference

The first session we attended may have been our favorite.

“Cultivate the Creative Spark” featured Julieanne Kost and Chris Orwig, two photographers. Since Margaret and I are also photographers, this could be why we felt so connected to the two of them as they were speaking about how they keep their creativity at a steady level, and not ever something that feels forced.

Their session was balanced around the word ikigai, a Japanese concept for the reason to wake up in the morning.

The speakers invited us to write a personal mission statement that incorporates your ikigai, is something you live out daily, that you can keep to as you work creatively throughout your life. They pointed out that a photographer’s passion projects will be most successful when they are woven into what we do daily.

Artistic flowers lit up by blue lights at nighttime

Being inspired by creative geniuses during our week in San Diego is still driving us, now that we are back at Loyola. The experience has led us both to reflect on our own work inside and outside of the classroom.

We are thrilled to be able to share more of what we learned as well as images from our time in San Diego with the Loyola community.

Student in front of conference center holding camera

Photographs and story by senior communication students Julia D’Agostino and Margaret Wroblewski.