BOULDER, Colo. –
Sex expert Evelyn Resh typically charges between $5,000 and $7,000 to speak at conferences.
But the certified sexuality counselor will pay her own airfare to Boulder, stay at a friend’s house and eagerly speak for free on panels at this year’s Conference on World Affairs.
The funding scheme of the annual conference presents a multimillion-dollar mystery: Organizers ask high-profile speakers to come to the University of Colorado campus â with the caveat that they must pay their own airfare, stay at a Boulder family’s home and forego their often-hefty honorariums.
And year after year, panelists clamor for the opportunity to come back.
The event would cost $2 million if conference organizers paid panelists their going speaking rates, put them up in local hotels, reimbursed their travel and hired a fleet of organizers, according to a CWA analysis.
But the university this year will spend just $165,000 for the extravaganza, with most of the money going toward office supplies and to pay some staff. The conference, which runs from April 6-10, relies heavily on volunteers to shuttle panelists to the airport, cook them breakfast and moderate panels.
It also relies on panelists’ enthusiasm for a week of debate in the shadows of the Flatirons.
Ilina Datkhaeva, a spokeswoman for the conference, said it’s initially difficult to convince panelists to donate their time and pay their own way.
“It takes a year,” she said. “Once they come out for one year, they beg us to come back.”
This will be sex expert Resh’s fifth year participating on panels alongside an eclectic mix of academics and artists, pundits and politicians, storytellers and scientists. Her line-up this spring includes discussions on coddled kids and their overprotective parents, universal health care and alternative family structures.
And she can’t wait.
“This is out of love,” she said. “There’s no question.”
On a ‘shoestring’ budget
CU student Madeleine Tengler’s description of her work for the conference sounds like the set-up for a joke: “So, one year, I had a full car. There was an international businessman. A politician. And a fiction writer.”
And Tengler, an international affairs major, was the airport chauffeur.
“It was probably one of the most interesting car rides of my life,” she said recalling the excited banter of racing minds as she drove her passengers from Denver International Airport.
Tengler is the coordinator of student volunteers, who recruit guests and brainstorm panel topics that appeal to young people. The reward for their labors is the chance to have the kinds of stimulating car-rides that Tengler still remembers.
Conference director Jim Palmer said the annual event can only happen because of those enthusiastic volunteers, who every year donate thousands of hours of their time. It’s because of their efforts that more than 80,000 people will come to the campus for nearly 200 panels, a jazz concert and “Cinema Interruptus,” an annual event with celebrity film critic Roger Ebert.
All events are free and open to the public.
“There really is nothing like the Conference on World Affairs,” Palmer said. “The Conference on World Affairs is a million-dollar conference that is basically run on a shoestring.”
Conference organizers say the event’s modest funding model deserves attention, especially during a recession. And, yes, the global economic crisis will be the focus of at least 10 events this year. Panel discussions and plenary addresses include, “Are We Stimulated Yet?” “What the Economic Crisis Has Taught Us” and “The Economy: Nightmare for the Next Generation.”
Boulder’s intellectual inns
Every year, about 100 Boulder residents volunteer to open up their homes to panelists, agreeing to put up guests who could range from an Irish storyteller, the chairman of the Communist Party USA or a New York Times reporter.
The volunteer hosts serve as Boulder ambassadors, showing the stars more than they’d discover if they were lodged in a hotel, said Stephanie Rudy, who works on the conference’s housing committee.
Over the years, Rudy has housed many guests, including repeat-visitor Leonard Shlain, an author and surgeon. She remembers stimulating conversations about Shlain’s latest book and worldly topics as the two started their days at 5:30 a.m. with breakfast and the New York Times.
“You really get to know the people that you house, especially if you’ve have had them stay at your house for more than one year,” she said.
Arranging inns for the intellectuals can be an entertaining exercise. It’s hard to find arrangements in Boulder for panelists who smoke or are allergic to animals, Rudy said.
Scientists like to hosts scientists. Sometimes, a piano in a living room makes an obvious match for a musician. And it’s always fun to put a conservative with a liberal.
But the guests’ housing arrangements are kept confidential.
“The housers don’t want groupies outside of the door,” Rudy said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.