Convention Review: Matsuricon 2016

A new convention to my line up this year was Matsuricon! I’ve never been to this convention either as an attendee or an artist. In addition, this was the furthest I’ve ever driven for a convention at over 6 hours of driving. Matsuricon has been on my radar for several years as a possible convention to attend, but it never quite fit in my schedule until this year.

On the whole, I really enjoyed myself at Matsuricon. The atmosphere was lively and fun without feeling unsafe. This convention did not feel like a party con at all and attendees had a wide variety of ages.

However, the artist alley had many issues and it definitely hurt the experience for me.

Sign Up

Sign up took place over a google form (if I’m remembering correctly). I honestly don’t remember the process much.

One thing to be aware of is that the artist alley was either in a closed room or in a hallway. The tables available in a hallway were open 24/7 and had no security available. Artists were able to set their own hours and needed to remove or cover their products to avoid theft or destruction of property when not at their table. I did talk to an artist who has done the convention for years and she told me there has only been one incidence of theft at her table. On the other hand, those in the room had set hours and when it was closed, the room was locked and secured.

Hallway Set Up Tables
It was difficult to choose between these options since each has definite pros and cons. Since this was the first year with a split alley there was a lot of unknowns. To make matters more difficult, artists were asked for a preference of location, but were not guaranteed one way or another.I personally chose (and was placed in) the closed alley. Now that the show is over, I know a bit more about each option.

The first difference is traffic. The hallways were much busier. However, with the increased traffic came its own problems. Artists in the hall told me many people were just passing through the hall, not browsing, so the increase in traffic might not translate to an increase in sales. In addition, people tended to congregate into groups to talk or take photos, which blocked some tables. I also noticed some tables had sitting areas behind them where attendees were hanging out.  Closed Room Table Set Up
Another difference is temperature. The closed room was very cold if there were not many attendees in it. On the other hand, the hallways were always quite warm with all the body heat packed in there.

Another odd thing was the tables. While the tables were all 6ft long, on the closed alley, the tables were two narrow tables up against each other with a tablecloth over top. It was wider than a normal table and meant my table cloth had to be short in back to compensate enough to touch the ground in front and cover everything under my table.

Hallway Set Up TablesLast, but not least, the hours were different and it made a huge impact. Since the hallway allowed artists to set their own hours, they were able to do business at the busiest times. The first few hours of each day are always slow. Meanwhile, I spoke to artists who were still making sales even close to midnight.


I did enjoy having the two separate options, though, as I felt it gave each artist the freedom to pick which one they could work best with. I would have preferred a guaranteed spot during sign up, though. Those with panic or anxiety disorders, working on their own without a helper, or those with complicated and difficult displays might have found the open hallway unmanageable and it would have been nice to know ahead of time.

Communication

Communication took place via email. I did not communicate with staff before the convention. At the convention all staff I spoke to were polite and attentive, though most of the time my helper spoke with them for me. However, I did have serious issues with staff which I will cover later.

Pre-Convention

Artists were given absolutely no communication prior to the event until the day before the convention started. I’m used to receiving a packet with information. When we did receive an email it contained a copy of the artist alley contract and a small google map screenshot of the convention center and some descriptions of where it was possible to load in. As someone who has never even been to Columbus in my life, let alone the convention center, this was very annoying.

Artists did have a map showing table assignments in advance, but it did not show the rest of the convention center and said it was connected via a sky bridge (which was not at all correct). This map was not emailed to me and I only saw it because it was shared on the Matsuricon facebook page and a friend sent it to me. In the end, this map didn’t even matter as table assignments as well as table placement in the hallways all changed.

The only reason I had any clue where to go or what to do ahead of time was an artist friend of mine who had done this convention before. She made sure that I, as well as many other mutual friends of ours, knew what we were doing. She even went so far as to include google street view photos of the parking garage so we could find it by sight as well as a physical address for the parking garage entrance, which elevator was best to go to, and where the room was within the convention center. This was all very helpful information and receiving it was the only reason I did not have to badger staff for answers to my questions.

Email addresses were also different than stated. We were told in the artist alley contract and on the website that the email was artistalley@matsuricon.org, but the email I received was from matsuriconaa@gmail.com. So once I got the email I still had no idea if it was from the actual artist alley, or someone creating a fake account to troll people. Though I assume it was legit, it would have been nice to stick to a consistent email address.  

Staff really dropped the ball on keeping artists informed and in the loop. An artist alley group on Facebook for Matsuricon might be useful. Other conventions have these and it allows artists to answer each other's questions, which might take some burden off of staff.

Set Up

Because my friend gave me all the information I needed ahead of time, I was able to set up very easily. I chose to valet park my car at the Hyatt for convenience. Hyatt staff helped me get all my stuff up to my room Thursday night. Friday morning I simply carried everything down. The elevators were conveniently close to the entrance to the convention center and the Franklin room was right there. It took no more than 10 minutes to get from my room to the artist alley, including waiting for the elevators. I absolutely loved the convenient placement of the artist alley.


The only issue I encountered was picking up my badge. I was the only one planning on being there that early, my helper was just waking up and was not planning on joining me Friday. However, when I went to pick up our badges, AA staff informed me my helper must be present and show her photo ID to get a badge. Which was not communicated to me in advance at any point. I told them her name and she was able to come down and pick it up a little while later, but again the whole issue could have been avoided had they let me either pick or both badges or had they let us know their policies ahead of time.


At the Con

Traffic was low in the closed alley. During the first hour of each day, I rarely saw more than a handful of people. There were no signs to direct people to the artist alley and the only draw to the closed alley room was if people happened to be walking by from the Hyatt, if they saw the artist alley tables in the hall and came to investigate, or if they went to Starbucks. Clear signs directing traffic towards the closed alley may have improved traffic.

One odd issue I did encounter was that because the tables were two tables up against each other and I am only 5ft tall if a customer was in a wheelchair I often had a hard time reaching to take money from them or give them change. Luckily this only happened two or three times the whole weekend, but short artists be prepared to have low displays in front of you so you can reach across the table.

Another odd issue was that the lights turned off briefly several times throughout the weekend in both the hall and the closed room. I assume someone accidentally flipped the switch. Perhaps tape should be placed over the light switches while the room is in use to prevent this.

There was also some inconsistencies with the doors. On Friday check in I was told every set of doors would be open. However only one set of doors was open and had someone to check badges at it for the majority of the day. Towards the end of the day, all doors were opened and no one checked badges. It was like this for the entire weekend. I think if staff wants to reduce ghosting, they should have placed more badge check points around the artist alley. I had one customer specifically tell me, “Since I didn’t buy a badge this year, I can afford to buy this from you.” If check points were set up at the start and the end of the artist alley hallways it could have helped crack down on those without a badge and keep them from enjoying a key feature of the convention without paying.

I also had some concerns for the actual security of the closed alley. On Sunday when I went to set up while the alley was still supposed to be closed to non-artists there was no one at the door and the door was unlocked. I was able to just walk right in, which was concerning.

One of my personal pet peeves is that there were no announcements that the alley was closing in the evenings and the doors were not immediately locked, though they were shut I saw several people enter after we were closed and it took some times for those lingering to clear out. The room is small enough someone could have simply shouted, “We are closing in 5 minutes” and “We are now closed, please make your final purchases and leave.”

Finally, I had a minor concern with a poorly behaved service dog in the artist alley. This dog jumped up on another artist’s table with its front paws and looked as though it were interested in grabbing a plushie. It was also tugging and pulling at its leash and sniffing at people as they passed. Every time this dog passed I was seriously concerned it would attempt to grab one of my plushies. Luckily it did not.

I did see more service dogs at this convention than any other convention I’ve been to combined (I’ve only seen 1 other service dog from the same person at several conventions but I saw at least 6 dogs at Matsuricon, if not more). It is something to be aware of and plan for if you have any phobias or allergies. I was not 100% sure how to act around service dogs so after this convention I read up on etiquette and found that, generally, the dogs should be ignored just like glasses or a cane as they are working and distractions can have serious consequences. I also found there are instances when it is okay to remove poorly behaved service animals which is good to know should I ever encounter another poorly behaved dog and am worried about my stock. (If anyone out there with a service animal has more advice specifically on how to interact with a customer who had a service animal I’d love to hear it.)

Despite all the issues, I still had pretty consistent sales. I didn’t set my sale goals high since this is a smaller sized convention. I assumed about ¼-⅓ of what I usually make at larger cons and I met my goal, but just barely. This is definitely a convention that you will need to consider carefully if you have to travel as the area can get pricey for the hotel and parking. But locals should definitely make plans to  that any locals should make plans to check it out as the risk is small and I felt like it was a very fun convention in general so it was worth attending even if profits were not very high.

On a bright note, I felt there was a good mix of products offered and tons of amazing talent. I definitely think the system they used to choose artists worked very well. And I did see staff walking around often and talking to artists during the convention.

Rules

While rules are usually included in my reviews at the beginning, I chose to save this section until now to avoid distracting from other areas of my review as it is a very long and serious section.

The rules for the artist alley were included at the beginning of the application. The rules state all merchandise should be handmade. Fanart is allowed for sale only if the art is not traced, is not recognizable as official art, no logos are used, the official owner doesn’t request removal, and fan art is no more than ⅔ of the merchandise. The rules do address “mod work” which is unusual for me to see in a contract. They allow it only if the original artwork medium is not the same (You sell an original book as a modified book) and if the original material is modified by more than 50%. There is no food or adult merchandise allowed and music must be licensed to be played.


All these seem very reasonable to me. However, we move onto my number one issue with the artist alley. Their rules were not enforced. I saw artists selling products from websites like artscow where their art is printed onto items such as bags or sleep masks (sometimes allowed since it is considered a printed product, but definitely not handmade). There were several people selling manufactured plushies. Artists in the hall had music playing as I passed that I doubt they licensed. One artist was selling products with official art ironed onto them.

The thing that impacted me the most was the sale of manufactured plushies. As most of you know, I now have my own manufactured plushies. I’m not against them, or the sale of them. I, for one, believe that products designed and produced in small batches by a single artist or small studio fit in the scope of the products offered in an artist alley. But what I believe does not matter. Each convention has their own opinions on what products belong in their artist alley and I always follow the rules of the convention. Matsuricon’s rules stated, “All merchandise should be handmade.” There were no exceptions listed to this rule.

When I saw manufactured plushies on Friday morning during set up my helper spoke to the head of the artist alley and asked if manufactured plushies were allowed. At this point, I was only looking for clarification. I thought I had just misunderstood or misremembered the rules. Staff told my helper that manufactured plushies were absolutely not allowed and that they would look into it.

By Saturday, nothing had been done about it at all.  

My helper again spoke to staff who said they hadn’t taken action because they were unable to find my helper and didn’t know who was selling manufactured plushies. We gave them the names of the artists, the studio names, and the manufacturers of their plushies.

Later in the day Staff spoke to my helper a third time and said that one person had permission to be selling manufactured plushies, but that they would be moving to the dealer’s hall next year, and the other would be leaving Saturday night anyway. Staff said they would not remove them ahead of time as they didn’t want to cause a scene so they were going to allow things to just play themselves out. Come Sunday morning the artist they said was leaving was still there.

To be clear, I am not upset with any artists who violated the rules. As artists, we apply to a lot of conventions and the rules can sometimes be poorly worded, tricky to understand, and easy to forget when you attend so many events a year. Every convention is different and it’s hard to remember which is which. This is the entire reason I include a “rules” section in my reviews at all so I can cover rules that are unique or unusual to avoid accidentally breaking them and getting yourself  thrown out. Very few people intentionally and maliciously break the rules. As convention artists, we’re actually part of a pretty small community of likeminded people who all understand each other and the struggles that you go through as an artist. It creates a lot of respect and understanding.

What I am upset with is how the entire situation was handled by staff. Every conversation with them was professional and they seemed genuinely concerned and ready to help solve the problem, but none of the talk translated into action. The artist alley contract even detailed actions that would be taken in the event of a breach of contract, but none of those actions were carried out. In the end, I didn’t even bring up the other violations of the rules such as music being played or the sale of non-handmade clothing or accessories as it was clear to me nothing would be done and those issues did not directly affect me. Which leads me to my final thoughts.

The entire situation created unnecessary animosity between artists and placed those who followed the rules at a disadvantage. It should not have fallen on me to alert staff of violations. It should not have been my responsibility to provide the names of those violating the rules in order for there to have been action. Staff should have been aware of what products were being sold in their artist alley especially given that this was a juried convention. It should not have fallen on me to badger staff into taking action, they should have honored their contract with every artist in attendance and enforced their rules so that all artists were given fair and equal opportunities. If staff is unwilling or unable to enforce their own rules, then they should either change the rules to fit in the scope of what they are comfortable and capable of enforcing, or remove the rules entirely.

Load Out

I ended up leaving 2 hours early because I had such a long drive ahead of me and my helper had to work in the morning. I checked my personal hotel bags with the Hyatt at checkout so I was able to load up my table stuff on my small cart and bring it to the front desk. I called my car from valet parking and staff helped me load up my car. It was one of the easiest load outs I’ve ever done. I seriously think I had at least 3 people almost tripping over themselves to help me out. It was completely worth the tip and I wish there was such awesome staff at other hotels.

As an Attendee

I cannot say enough good things about the convention itself. We LOVED having the food court available as most conventions have very little food outside of hot dogs and junk food. The convention center was very nice and had some lovely spots for photos. I was worried the escalators would get busy, but traffic moved nicely through them. Even though it was obvious there was construction happening, it was also clear the convention center was doing their best to keep things looking nice and tidy. The hotel was fantastic, too, and very quiet at night. Though the rooms were small, they were lovely. There was some times when the elevators were slow and a unorganized line formed, but that happens at every con.


While I did not have time to attend any panels at this convention, I did find several that looked very interesting or unique. Having performers at the rave seemed really cool as did the kitten adoption event. Samurai Dan’s 18+ Cards Against Humanity panel is one of my favorites from Colossal Con so I’m sad that it took place way too late for me to attend and still work in the morning. I’d have loved to see how it was run at Matsuricon.

All the attendees seemed really friendly, too. For whatever reason this convention had a very safe, inclusive vibe and I happily joined a group of people singing the pokemon theme song at the top of their lungs outside the dealer’s hall (shout out to you all for making me laugh).
My only concerns as an attendee were the lack of badge checks and signage. It took me quite a while to find the dealer’s hall. “On the third floor” didn’t help me much as I did not know how to get to the third floor except trying to push my way past people on the giant stairs. Once I found the escalators it was easy, but until then I had no clue. As an attendee walking around, the only place I had my badge checked was the entrance to the dealer’s hall. Even then I twice walked past the door guards without them noticing. Once the door staff was playing on their phone, and the second time the staff member was chatting with a group of 2-3 people. I personally prefer more badge checks as it really sucks when people not attending the con are able to come in just to cause trouble.

Final Thoughts

Matsuricon is a fantastic convention that I strongly recommend any anime fan attend. You will not be disappointed.

However, the Artist Alley has some very serious flaws in the way it is run. I was extremely unhappy with the staff’s inability or unwillingness to enforce their own rules. I cannot even begin to express how angry I am over the way staff behaved. It was unprofessional, insulting, and quite frankly it cost me money. If I had known manufactured plushies were allowed, I would have brought mine and could easily have doubled my sales (I sold out of handmade bats on day one.)  


I would love to return to Matsuricon, but only as an attendee or with different rules and/or staff in place. Should the rule against manufactured items remain in place I cannot see myself selling in the artist alley without different staff because I no longer trust them to enforce their own rules. I am the sort of person who loves following the rules so I will always be at a disadvantage against those who bring banned items knowing staff won’t do anything about it.

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