On the Escapade art show, and on stepping down from it
|Title:||On the Escapade art show, and on stepping down from it|
|Date(s):||February 28, 2013|
|External Links:||On the Escapade art show, and on stepping down from it; archive link|
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On the Escapade art show, and on stepping down from it is a 2013 post by the shoshanna.
Some Topics Discussed
Before the Internet, just as zines and circuit stories were nearly the only ways fans could circulate and enjoy fanfiction, convention art shows were nearly the only way fans could circulate and enjoy fannish artwork. Of course art was printed in zines, and in 2013 the paperwork for the Escapade art show still asks whether print rights are being sold along with the artwork itself. But reproductions in zines were often not high quality -- or they were, and you paid a lot of money for the color offset cover on that zine - and of course they could be only so big. (Though I do remember a few fold-out oversize pages. My BSO is a centerfold!) Art shows allowed artists to display their work to fifty or a hundred or several hundred people at a time, at a time when that was a notable, even though still small, fraction of media fandom, especially of slash fandom.
I kind of fell backwards into running art shows. I volunteered at one of the first media cons I went to, a con whose name I can no longer recall -- I think it was one of the last Scorpios, which means this would have been 1988 or '89 -- and I remember that whoever I volunteered to didn't seem eager to have me; I got a bit of a sense of "We don't know you, why would we want to involve you?" (I have since striven to give the opposite of that sense.) But then, partway through the art auction, one of the runners, the people carrying items around so the bidders can get a close look, cut her hand. And since they couldn't have a runner getting blood on the art, they sat her down and asked me to step up and fill in.
Anyway, after that my fate was sealed. I loved the energetic exuberance of auctions, the laughter and repartee about the things being sold, and I began running art every chance I could get. In particular, I began running at MediaWest, a con with an art show so large that it had many auctioneers, all selling pieces in turn throughout the very long auction; the job was too big for only one or two. I often paired up with Paula Smith, a regular auctioneer there for many years; we riffed off each other well, and one year she pulled me up on stage to auction her last few items. That may have been the first time I auctioned!
I always saw art shows as a place for fans to enjoy looking at the art, as well as places for the sellers to make some money (and the con; cons normally charge a hanging fee, or take a cut of sales, or possibly both). (Note: I know that the fact that fan art has historically been sold for a profit, and fan fiction has historically not been -- though I know of exceptions on both sides -- has been more or less contentious over the years. I would prefer not to have that argument here, thanks.) And I always saw auctions as one of the main attractions of a con, a big public entertainment. As an auctioneer, I've worked on the principle that at any given moment there are maybe three or four people bidding, and up to two hundred who need to be entertained; my goal is to keep the energy level up, to be engaging and amusing and keep both the bids and the hilarity coming fast and hard. I loved attending auctions before I ever worked one, even though I never bid on anything, and I wanted to do auctions that people would love attending, regardless of whether they were interested in buying something. With all the modesty in the world, I think I can say I succeeded.I also wanted the art show staff to enjoy working with me and for the show. Because staffing an art show is a bit more complex than checking badges in a doorway, and can involve handling a lot of other people's money, I've preferred to have a few people working many hours over the con weekend, rather than a lot of people working only one or two hours each, which means I have to keep them happy, because it's a lot to ask! And I've always felt that it's management's job to take crap, not to force lower-level workers to take it. customers_suck didn't exist then, of course, but reading it in recent years has only confirmed me in that opinion...) The written instructions I've provided forEscapade art show staff for the last decade or so include the instruction to "maintain politeness at almost any cost," but also the assurance that in any difficult or sticky situation they could bail at any moment and pass it on to me: "I'm sorry, this is something that has to be handled by Shoshanna." With great power comes great responsibility; I was the one being thanked publicly by name and getting a free con membership, and in return I took on not just the fun work, and not just the organizational work, but also the job of handling any tension or discord. (Running art shows pushed me to get a lot better at that, over the years. I've learned so much through fandom, I can't begin to tell you.)
I'm not an artist; my lack of visual sense and visual memory is legendary. It makes me smile that two of the biggest contributions I think I've made to fandom over the years have been running the Escapade art show and organizing volunteers at Vividcon, considering that I'll never draw a picture and I'll never make a vid; I'm just a happy onlooker to both art forms. But I am good at organizing people -- and at entertaining auction audiences -- so those came to be my contributions. (As well as writing and editing, back in the day, and a bit of work for the OTW.)
Fandom was different when I began working con art shows. Technology was different. The whole bloody world was different. Today fan art, like fan fiction, has moved onto the Net, and in doing so it has changed. Fewer and fewer 2-D artists even seem interested in making paper copies of their work (just as, I think, fewer vidders are interested in making DVDs), and some forms of fan art, like animated gifsets, can't be physically displayed the way drawings can. In recent years the Escapade art show has had a high proportion of resales, older art whose original buyers are clearing it out.
On the other hand, silicone creations can't be posted online. The art show has also had an increasing proportion of crafts and three-dimensional artworks: knitted, molded, and carved things that, like big color pictures in the zine era, can be fully displayed and enjoyed only in person. I believe that fan art shows need to change, just as so much else about fandom has changed, to be better adapted to the Internet era, to be better centers of creative community and fun.But I'm not the person to lead that change. And after twenty-two years, I'm tired. I don't want to keep running the same old art show, but I don't know enough about art and art communities as they exist today to know what to do about it. And I've spent a lot of time at Escapade in the art show -- with people I love and doing work I'm proud of, but I'd like to have my Saturdays free, for once! So I decided that this would be my last year running the show.