Often I ask myself: why do anime conventions become hotbeds for unforeseen drama and challenges? These vibrant hubs for fandoms seem to attract a unique blend of issues. From internal staffing issues to filling public fountains with soap and causing a mess, I’ve seen it all. (That fountain thing wasn’t at my con, thank goodness).
The latest drama in the anime conventions community comes out of Ohio. The details are easy to find online. The tl;dr of the situation seems to be: the convention was “run” by a bunch of volunteers, and the convention was “owned” by some other folks – and the two sides couldn’t see eye to eye. The dispute involved everything from drama about the convention logo to people’s titles and authority, but in reality it looks like it all came down to money – and communication – in the end.
Smaller disputes, like the dispute over the convention logo, seemingly minor, became a symbol of larger power struggles within the organization.
The convention volunteer team – the ones doing most of the work to organize the event, at least according to them – decided that they were tired of seeing the convention “owners” pay themselves, without divying any of the con profits to those volunteers. And the situation came brutally to a head.
This breakdown in communication and disagreement over financial aspects highlights the deeper issues within the convention’s organizational structure.
A certain anime-related news website shared an article that was essentially a compilation of all the drama that had unfolded so far. I noted that they waited until the day of the convention to publish their news piece, which seemed more to fan the flans than to report news – the drama itself is months old by now.
It’s interesting to think about how profits and conventions work. Some conventions are “nonprofit” (like Otakon and Anime Expo). But even nonprofit doesn’t mean no-profit. I read a report that Anime Expo’s convention chair is paid over $100k. I am also aware of a nonprofit convention in the Midwest that dissolved after COVID, because their directors were paid $10,000 per month throughout the crisis, and they ran out of cash. Other conventions are for-profit mega corporations, like Fan Expo, which trades on the London Stock Exchange.
So the way money, and staffing, is handled can vary dramatically from event to event. Some make volunteers purchase their own badges to attend. Other events pay their volunteers in a small stipend. Some events have an entire team of only volunteers, while others have a core group of staff who get paid a little bit for each convention.
This diversity in financial and staffing models leads to varied expectations and perceptions among those involved. In situations where the lines between volunteerism and paid work blur, misunderstandings and miscommunications can easily arise. It’s crucial for organizers to establish clear, transparent policies regarding compensation and roles. This not only ensures fairness but also prevents the buildup of resentment and confusion. When these policies are not clearly communicated or when they are perceived as unjust, it can lead to dissatisfaction among the core team. This dissatisfaction, if not addressed promptly and effectively, can escalate into the kind of public disputes we’ve seen. Therefore, understanding the financial and organizational structure of a convention is key to comprehending how and why communication breakdowns occur.
Here’s the thing I ask – how did the communication situation get so bad that things blew up so publicly? How could the organizers not see that their core team of volunteers was deeply unhappy? Why didn’t they do something about it sooner?
Perhaps it really does all come down to money. Money is often the problem, or rather, the lack of money. Perhaps the Ohayocon owners just thought they didn’t have enough money to pay anyone. That’s my guess. After my post about Youmacon, a lot of posts came up online about them not paying various groups – from the union labor at the venue to the videogaming team. Whether any of its true or not, I don’t know. But it does show that money can surely solve, or cause, a lot of problems.
I’ll admit, my events have not been stranger to drama. Around 7 years ago, we too had a group claim to be our entire core volunteer team quit a month before the convention. But they weren’t part of my core team, who I communicate and talk with every day. Unlike in Ohio, where top officials were involved, our situation was managed effectively due to our strong internal communication lines. In Ohio, it was top people – the con chair, the head of media, various department heads – that were all upset, and it seemed apparent that communications broke down completely.
These incidents from Ohio and my own experience underscore the importance of these next points. As a takeaway, I’d like to share some important points:
Listen and communicate to your team. Communications breakdowns like this should not happen among a team of functioning adults who communicate like adults. Even if the problem is a complete lack of money, transparency with the numbers can help. Your team needs to feel like they’re exactly that – a “team” – and not just a bunch of pawns in your own world of 3D chess.
Be transparent and honest. A lot of the drama was exacerbated by little issues, fights about logos, access and permissions, stuff that really should not be causing massive blowups. When your team just can’t communicate, little problems become bigger ones.
Be careful of Ohio. We’re all in danger of Ohio here. Hug your loved ones. On a serious note, remember, the issues seen in Ohio are not unique and can arise in any community, so it’s important to stay vigilant and proactive in transparency and communication with your team.