I’m no pie-in-the-sky idealist. I know the world doesn’t run on rainbows and hugs, and oftentimes conventions are no exception. But damn if I can’t still be shocked sometimes when I hear about how certain shows are being run.
I won’t name the show mentioned, but it was an anime convention where the exhibitor who went posted a very odd thing; because she had craft goods for sale, she was not allowed to be in Artist’s Alley. In fact all the folks with non-”2D” artwork were segregated out to a different section of the convention. This was bizarre enough to me, but the craziest part was yet to come; when asked why this was happening, the convention organizers claimed that it was the 2D artists who had complained and demanded the separation.
I hope they were just making that up, because if not, well, what the hell? In five years of exhibiting at conventions, I’ve never encountered this sort of mentality. But for that matter, I’m used to conventions where as long as you register early enough and pay your money, you get a spot, and the artist’s alleys are an eclectic mix of all manner of goods. We’re not talking small shows, either. San Diego is in a class by itself, but shows like WonderCon, Emerald City and Phoenix have all gotten pretty damn big — yet I keep hearing of much smaller shows requiring jury selections, treating their exhibitors poorly, and otherwise seeming downright hostile by comparison. Is it just more mellow on the West Coast? Is it some cultural difference between the comic cons and anime/manga events? I mean, I’ve observed some aesthetic differences on that score before, but I’m absolutely floored at times hearing stories from the anime circuit for what the exhibitors not only have to put up with, but have accepted as just a necessary evil.
This artist segregation, though, is probably the worst trend I’ve heard yet, especially if it’s actually because Independent Artist A is looking down their nose at Independent Artist B purely because of the media each has chosen to express themselves in. Dawn does sketches and illustrations, but she also sews plushie zombie horses and makes jewelry pendants and there is no less effort and creativity involved in the latter. And you can’t tell me it’s a matter of the displays not being uniform enough, because a) uniformity is freaking boring, and b) 2D artists don’t all do the same sort of table set-up anyhow, either.
It’s bad enough when it’s a “separate but equal” situation, but now some shows have taken it a step further. They’ve separated out the sewers and sculptors and then turned around and charged them a significantly higher fee for exactly the same size of table and space, just in a different spot on the floor. And it’s not even near the entrance. That’s just Grade A bullshit right there.
Like I said, I haven’t really come in contact with this myself, I just find it worrisome that it’s happening anywhere, and even more worrisome that there could ever be a culture where independent artists are segregating out “undesirables” from their ranks based on some bizarre caste system of what counts as real art or not. I would prefer to think that’s some nutball organizer’s idea and they’re just making up some silent majority to justify their personal prejudices. And most of all, I want to believe that if exhibitors come in contact with this sort of toxic attitude, they will stand up and make their voices heard that it’s not okay, and if the convention won’t listen, that convention will eventually be an empty place.
Am I blowing this out of proportion? Have any of you run into this phenomenon, and if so, do you think it’s worthy of concern?