Michigan convention scene an outlet of expression
BY CHEYANNE KRAMER
OU News Bureau
The first day of the convention, Emily Schwinghamer wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and is at the venue by 6:45 for the vendors to unload. She’s the con chair, which means she’s one of the people in charge.
“From there, it’s constant motion until the after party is over,” she said.
Schwinghamer chairs the convention Washi Con, a convention that’s known for educational programming and discussion-based content. It’s run out of Eastern Michigan University, and has been hosted twice so far, in 2015 and 2016.
There are 25 geek events and conventions in April throughout Michigan, according to Michigan Geek Scene. This means there’s an event happening every weekend across the state where fans of movies, comic books, anime and more can mingle.
The attendee story is told with blogs and websites updating with reviews about which conventions are the best. However, what’s often untold is the life of a con chair, or the person in charge of one of these conventions.
Why host a convention?
Schwinghamer, con chair for Washi Con, said she could remember the very date they decided to run the convention.
“It was March 26th, 2015, Lee’s Birthday,” she said.
Lee, her husband, had extra credits left over that his graduate program would pay for, and was advised to do an independent study. The adviser told him to run an “anime conference” as his independent study, and Lee told his wife about it, laughing.
“It seemed ridiculous,” she said. “But when I relayed this seeming joke to my co-workers at the time, they all said it seemed like a good idea. From that point it seemed less impossible and we decided to go for it.”
William Burgees, former convention chair of the Japanese Animation, Film, and Art Expo, said running a convention is both stressful and rewarding.
“The real rewards, I’ve always felt, have been during the con when you see so many happy faces and people excited to see friends and do fun things together in a positive environment,” he said.
Stress of the event
However, more conventions aren’t always a great thing. Burgess said event planners have a high level of stress, and one thing that adds to the usual stress of hosting an event is the growing competition.
“The people we see time and time again starting new events are people who attended a convention or two and figured they could host one, too,” Burgess said. “Sometimes, they are very successful, but sometimes they find they really are in over their heads.”
Schwinghamer added that there were other problems.
“From legal issues to budgeting, fundraising, security, public opinion, accessibility, all the way down to policies and practices and the correct promotional balance, there is no aspect of the con running process that is easy,” she said.
At Washi Con, the biggest problem was staffing, which she said is common.
“Instead of starting a new show, whether anime or some other pop-culture event, go and help the staff and volunteers at some of these other shows that happen around you,” Burgess said. “These established shows really need the most help.”
The future of the Michigan convention scene
Schwinghamer thinks that conventions will continue to grow, with conventions supporting one another.
“A strong mutually beneficial relationship with the community the convention exists in is also important,” she said. “We are very lucky in this state to have, by and large, a very cooperative culture among conventions and runners and we mostly support each other.“
One example of this mutually beneficial relationship is her concept of a relaxation room. She explained that she had it included at Washi Con in 2015 to provide a quiet space for those suffering from anxiety-related medical conditions at conventions.
“Since then, I have sent our relaxation room training program to con chairs all over the country, where the idea has gained traction and continues to help people,” she said.
Burgess thinks that conventions will see a decline in overall growth because of the number of new ones appearing each year. Changing venues from colleges to convention centers and the addition of entrance fees will morph the experience, too, he said.
He emphasized that it’s worth it to see the final show.
“The convention scene can be very rewarding, but it can also be stressful, for good reason,” Burgess said.
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