Continuum: Con runners Confab

No Award went to Continuum! As we often do, being Melbourne fans of a certain persuasion. We didn’t get to many panels we weren’t on, so rather than doing an overview of the whole con, we thought we’d do a couple of individual posts about things that arose.

The first in this series is about the Con Runners Confab, which was not a panel so much as an informal discussion between past and future con runners about convention culture in Australia (and New Zealand) and its evolution and future.

This post is as unstructured as the confab itself was, but Liz hopes it serves as a jumping off point for ideas about new models of fan gatherings, and recognition of the people who put the work into building and maintaining places (real and virtual) where fans gather.

Next year, I’m going to stay in the city for Continuum — if not at the venue itself, then at one of the budget accommodation places in the CBD — so I don’t waste a whole pile of spoons getting myself there and back. And maybe then I won’t need a whole week and a half to recover.

First I should say that this took place at 9 on Saturday morning, and I was only on my first coffee. So it was not what you would call a tightly structured, well-organised conversation. But it was fascinating regardless.

Present were myself, a former Continuum chair and current/future co-programmer; Sarah, next year’s Continuum co-chair; Lisa, of Victoria’s Discworld con; Lynelle Howell, New Zealand’s fan fund delegate, who has been involved in NZ cons for many years and is working on the Kiwi Worldcon bid; and Emilly aka Apples, a former Continuum chair, who is promoting a different model of convention.

I was disappointed that no one connected from SwanCon could attend, because I’m told that SwanCon has a significantly different culture from the east coast Australian conventions.

Lisa didn’t get much opportunity to tell us about the Discworld cons, which is a shame, because I’m fascinated that Australia can support a one-fandom con like this. Lisa talked about repositioning the events in the wake of Pratchett’s death — he used to attend, but now they have to find other focuses.

Lynelle discussed New Zealand 2020, which is up for the vote next year. Will it win? I hope so, for selfish reasons, but the Trump presidency may work against us, with Americans hesitant to leave the country. Or it might work for us, with non-American fans reluctant to choose a site in the USA. Who knows? The important thing is that, if it wins, I’ll probably put my hand up to assist in some capacity, which is absolutely a thing I will have time and energy for.

Lynelle also marvelled at the cost of cons in Australia — New Zealand cons are expensive, but not as much as here, plus there are younger fans organising three-yearly budget cons — “Coke and pretzels” was how she described them.

This led us to Emilly, who started us down the path that made me sit up and start scribbling madly in my notebook.

Australian cons, Emilly argues, are based on a Northern Hemisphere model that just doesn’t work for us: hiring conference space in a hotel, in a city, over a long weekend. This is viable in the US and UK, because they have larger small cities, and larger numbers of people can travel shorter geographic distances. Whereas, in Australia, our smaller cities like Newcastle and Geelong are sort of out of the way, people will have to travel further to get there, and it’s a harder sell — so we’re constantly holding events in capital cities at peak tourism times. Accordingly, ticket prices are higher and there’s a much greater barrier to attending.

This is something that Continuum has grappled with for a few years, and we were very excited to be able to offer needs-based memberships in 2017, but Emilly is considering a different model all together: smaller single-day events held in library meeting rooms and similar spaces.

(Some libraries have better facilities than others, of course — Melbourne’s Library at the Dock wouldn’t suit, but Kathleen Syme Library in Carlton is almost designed for this purpose.)

With shorter time commitments and lower costs, mini-cons like this would be more accessible to the people currently excluded from big cons like Continuum — teenagers, students, the unwaged.

Emilly is planning to run a fanworks mini-con later this year. As it happens, a new full-scale fanworks convention is currently being organised overseas. I snarked at it on Twitter for not mentioning which country it’s being held in, which, of course, means it’s American:

Sometimes I am blinded by prejudice, and this is one of those cases — Emilly pointed out that FanWorks does something really unusual in some of its material: it categorises contributions to fannish infrastructure as fanworks.

And this was here I had a wee bit of a brainstorm and had to stop everything to write frantically in my notebook. Because quite often, especially around award times, I start to feel like I’m not doing enough in fandom and I’m not a real fan.

“I don’t blog much about SFF,” I find myself thinking. “I don’t write insightful and thoughtful essays. Or any other kinds of essays. The fiction I’m writing is set in other genres. I haven’t written much fan fiction in the last couple of years. I hardly even reblog stuff on Tumblr these days. Maybe I’m just pretending to be a speculative fiction fan. I need to reassess my entire self-image. Soon as I’m done programming this speculative fiction convention that’s taking up all my time and energy…”

Fannish infrastructure — my notes say “con running, volunteering, board or subreddit moderation, AO3 wrangling, fic archival etc” — is sort of the invisible glue that holds fandom together. I don’t know if the invisibility is gendered, because literally none of the fannish spaces I inhabit contain many men. But it’s easy to devalue and overlook these things.

In the meantime, Continuum is also looking at inexpensive one-day events. And one outcome from the con itself was the creation of a Slack for con runners, organisers, programmers, etc — hit me up if you want an invite.

4 thoughts on “Continuum: Con runners Confab

  1. Pingback: Smaller, cheaper fan conventions | LIBRARY_3000

  2. One problem with mini-con type events is… how easy are they to get to via public transport if they aren’t in the CBD? Cheap meeting-spaces in out-of-the-way places are… out of the way. There’s a reason I’ve hardly ever gone to a Melbourne Science Fiction Club meeting: wandering around Coburg in the dark on a Friday night does NOT appeal. You really need a car to get there. Which doesn’t really make it very accessible, in any sense of the word.

    1. Nearly all libraries in Melbourne and other large towns are close to public transport. They’re designed to be. (I just looked up the MSFC’s meeting place, and it’s right around the corner from my old house, with a tram stop a few metres away and a train station on the next block.)

      Now, whether people want to travel through the CBD and out to another suburb is a different question, but the same goes for whether would-be Continuum attendees can or want to travel into the CBD or pay for accommodation.

  3. Sally Beasley

    Perth has a budget convention held in a University hall of residence in January each year. There’s not a huge amount of overlap, but there is some.

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