Arisia 2020 Con Report: As Always, Festive And Fun

By Daniel Dern: Arisia 2020 was back again at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel from Friday, January 17 through Monday, January 20 — and, in the day-and-change I was there, it looked like, as always, lots of people were having lots of fun. (Including me.)

The first Arisia had just over 800 attendees; Arisia 2017 had over 4,500 registered attendees! According to the con’s Monday morning January 20 Clear Ethernet newsletter, Arisia 2020 is reporting 3,052 registered attendees.

That’s a lot of people — but, when and where I was at the con, not so many as to create mosh-pit crowding or room over-filling (unlike at the Dublin 2019 Worldcon, for example).

Looking ahead, as of the Monday report, eighty-eight people have already pre-registered for Arisia 2021.

Guests of Honor (GoH) for Arisia 2020 were: Author GoH Cadwell Turnbull, Artist GoH Kristina Carroll, and Fan GoH Arthur Chu.

Before I actually talk about this year’s con — since I wasn’t there for much of it, and was busy doing or at sessions for at least one-third of the time I was there — here’s some general Arisia/con info, for any fan/con newcomers in the audience. Feel free to read or just skip over the next two subsections.

HOTEL BACK-STORY — SETTLEMENT COST FUNDRAISER A SUCCESS!  “Back again at the Westin,” because, as some may recall, at the near-last-minute, Arisia 2019 switched to the Boston Park Plaza (where it had been thirteen times previously). (Here’s backstory if you’re interested.

Good news! The fundraiser to cover settlement costs from this has reached its $40,000 goal as of Arisia 2020’s final afternoon, well in advance of the March 1 deadline to do so.

According to a tweet from the con, “We have raised $40.3k as of now. We are still taking donations and will be posting about stretch goals soon.”

WHAT’S ARISIA? (FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW OR HAVE LOST TRACK).  The greater Boston Area is home to three major annual science fiction & fantasy conventions: Arisia, in January; Boskone, in March; and ReaderCon, in July.

First held in 1990, Arisia is, in the con’s own words, “New England’s Largest, Most Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention… Arisia is a convention for fans of science fiction and fantasy, in all forms of media.”

FIRST ARISIA/FIRST CON? READ UP AND LEARN. Many Arisians have been attending since the con’s founding — but equally, there’s many for whom this is their first Arisia or even first sf con. (“My First Arisia” badge ribbons were available. (Probably also “My First Con” ones, but I didn’t notice any.) These can be helpful conversation starters.

If it’s your first Arisia — particularly if you haven’t attended any science fiction conventions before — do your homework/research — ideally, before you register and make any trip reservations. This can help you maximize your fun, perhaps save some money, and be aware of Code of Conduct do’s and don’ts.

  • Read the basic con description. Does it sound like something you’d enjoy? (And/or find relevant professionally/business-wise?)
  • Read the First Time Arisia Attendees Guide.
  • Read the Code of Conduct (CoC) . This covers how you can and shouldn’t interact with fellow attendees — and they with you. Among other reasons, registering for the con includes ticking the box that says you have read and agreed to the CoC.
  • Read or at least skim the Arisia Survival Guide and Packing List — this is a longish document, and not all will be relevant to you, but it can’t hurt to learn/be reminded rather than learn the hard way.Also, keep in mind that Boston in mid-January may be sunny and only mildly chilly — or it may be freezing cold, with rain or snow — and access to the “T” (MBTA, Boston’s public transit) is an unshielded block-ish walk over a highway. Bring suitably warm/waterproof outer garments and footwear.

ARISIA: A CON WITH LOTS OF CHOICES OF STUFF TO DO. This is true of most cons (possibly all, but I haven’t been to all cons).

Things to do at Arisia range from program tracks like interviews, panels, and readings, to gaming — board, card, LARP (live-action roleplaying) and video;, craft and costuming workshops, filking, concerts and dances, and anime and videos.

This includes lots of fun stuff for kids of all ages.

Sunday evening, there’s the Masquerade, where you can see a wide range of costume and performance skills. (If you like looking at costumes and cosplay, even if you can’t make it to the Masquerade, you’ll see lots of amazing costumes simply strolling around the con — particularly in the hotel lobby.)

The Arisia Dealers Room always offers a mix of books, art, garb, gear, games, and accessories, along with teas, spices, chocolates and other sundries.

Arisia has an Art Show — with nearly a hundred artists this year. And while many of the displayed items are expensive or not-for-sale, there are always lots of originals and prints available in the $15-$30 range, which make great souvenirs and gifts!

You can also join the volunteer team — volunteer — it’s also a great way to meet people and make new friends). According to the con, “Arisia is a volunteer-run convention, from the bottom all the way up to the top. With a staff of over 200 people working pre-con and an at-con volunteer corps of over 500.”

You can donate blood, through the Blood Drive run by the Heinlein Society. This year’s resulted in at least 73 blood units donated to Mass General Hospital, and 37 to Children’s Hospital.

And you can simply hang out, to schmooze. Some fans go to little or no programming, instead chatting with old friends (or meeting new ones).

Like many — but not all — cons, Arisia includes focused areas and tracks for 19-and-unders, including a teen-run Teen Lounge space for ages 13-19, plus childcare tracks for various age groups.

If any of these apply to or include you, or pre-adults you are responsible for, be sure to read Arisia’s Family Friendly Guide.

DERN@ARISIA (FINALLY!)  Since I was only planning to be at Arisia on Saturday — and had sessions to do at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., with one panel I wanted to go to in between — I went in Friday afternoon to pick up my badge and my Press ribbon, including reading and signing the Photographers Contract. (There’s a separate contract for commercial photographers, but that doesn’t apply to what I’m doing.) The Participant Packets (schedule, “Program Participant” ribbon, “name tent,” helpful info, etc.) weren’t ready yet, but confirming the location of Program Ops for pickup is the important piece of this process.

It turns out my Friday badge run was a good idea; on Saturday, between getting a late-ish start from home, and sundry T hiccups, I got to the con an hour later than I’d planned… although still with enough time to zoom through the Dealers Room and the Art Show. And have brief chats with friends.

And I began taking pictures, using a mix of my phone and DSLR camera:

Daniel Dern

A Few Free Books: There was (only) a short pile on the table just outside the Dealers Room (on Friday, before the room opened), but I found one to adopt: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold’s third book in her Vorkosigan Saga. While I’ve read some MILSF over the years (here’s a rec for Marko Kloos’ latest, Aftershocks), and was very aware of Bujold and the Miles V books (hard to miss if you’re looking at the NESFA table at Boskone, for example), I had for no clear or good reason avoided them. Convenience and price — it was there.

Having finished the book before the weekend was out (it’s short, and I had three T trips of reading time, but there was a con to be busy at), I’ve library-reserved books one, two, and four, for a start. (I’ll interleave them with Adam Halls’ very non-sf Quiller Cold War spy novels.) Question for fellow Filers: do books that are on our To-Be-Read list, but, whether as library transients or as e-books (or both), count in Mount To-Be-Read? Either way, is there a categorical way to refer to these? Discuss.

My “Program Participant” ribbon was for doing two sessions in FastTrack: my magic show (with a mixed bag of age-appropriate tricks, props and jokes), and reading some of my Dern Grim Bedtime Tales (Few Of Which End Well), which are flash-length. We all had fun, and I got to use some new magic paraphernalia, including a different type of Chameleon bag, and “jumbo” versions of the Rising Card deck and Zig-Zag Card. I always have fun.

As you can probably guess from the photos that Mike posted, two of my favorite to-do’s at Arisia are strolling the Dealers Room — I bought a dinosaur tie — I’ve already got one, but this has slightly larger-sized dinos — and admiring hall costumes — and taking pictures of both. It’s also a chance to bring along my larger cameras and accessories (flash, and bounce card)… and to practice and improve my skills.

I only had time to get to one program event; unsurprisingly, I went to “Photographing Respectively,” a panel of five photo pro’s discussing the various concerns, challenges, and advice for photographing people out-of-studio — at events and in public. Instructive!

If it hadn’t been on Sunday, I would have gone to the “Fighting with Swords!” workshop given by Cambridge Historical European Martial Arts Studies Group. (I did the broadswords one a few years back, either at an Arisia or Boskone.)

And that was my Arisia 2020 — shorter than I’d preferred, but I did everything I needed to (filing this report to OGH is my final deliverable), so now, I’m looking forward to Boskone, where I’m doing a reading, a panel, a DragonsLair magic show, and a LEARN MAGIC intro talk (which I first did at SmofCon, when they created it as a program item, as I learned on arrival). And no doubt taking more pictures.

13 thoughts on “Arisia 2020 Con Report: As Always, Festive And Fun

  1. Ah; if Dan Dern was only at Arisia for Saturday, that explains why I didn’t have a chance to talk with him. [I did get to wave in passing, but I needed a nap on Saturday afternoon.]

    The numbers for the blood drive are correct as of the final tally. They are similar to totals going back several years, despite a low attendance total. as best we can tell, this reflects an influx of younger people in the total attendee mix; in any case the blood drive will continue in future years.

  2. Lowell,

    And that explains we missed our usual brief-but-always-pleasant chat. Note, I’m a “Daniel” — I never use “Dan” (although I’ll cheerfully endorse checks to me made out that way).

  3. Brendan,
    Right, my apologies. I know better, but sometimes my typing muscles are on Non-Standard Time.

  4. Daniel oh gosh no apologies necessary! Typing muscles do get away from us, don’t they! Great report.

  5. I’d love to see the bodies-on-site number; last year’s convention had ~20% no-show, probably due to the parallel mess so I wouldn’t expect the same split, but it will be interesting to see whether the numbers recover further.

    The Code of Conduct still has that nasty little twist in the rules for taking pictures of other people, where signers give Arisia the right to take and use their picture at any time/place and in any manner; this is the immediate reason my partner no longer goes to Arisia. I’ve addressed this informally and gotten no response; maybe I’ll get the energy to write them. (Arisia did have what they called a town meeting to raise and discuss issues attendees thought were important, but it was at 10am and I was commuting.)

    There were only 2.5 book dealers this year, but IIRC that’s ~typical for some time; back when Arisia was capped at 2500, Larry Smith said he did about the same amount of business there as at Boskone (~1000 bodies-on-site) (The .5 is Pandemonium Books and Games, which looks like it has been doing more business (and giving more space) to games than books for some time now.

    IMO, books reserved in a library queue count for Mt. TBR when they become available. (This is significant, since a book that has to be queued for usually has to be read reasonably quickly — I’ve gotten pinched a couple of times when several items came off the queue close together.) Other library books count when checked out. e-books that one nominally owns count. YMMV.

    The panel was “Photographing Respectfully” according to the online program. There were some interesting panels about books (although they seemed to be using a number of the same panelists); I didn’t have the mental energy for the science panels (or the knowledge to estimate how accurate the participants would be); the panel on the Good Omens series, wasn’t bad, but ISTM it would have been more interesting if I were either involved in the online fan group or a heavy consumer of TV.

    An unpleasant surprise for those of us who don’t do tech toys: the pocket program was typeset in the usual 4.25″x11″ format, but not actually printed; this was hinted at by the web site, which offered PDFs (in either sequential or binding imposition) for people to print, but IMO not made clear. Fortunately, Information did get some copies run off as the con went on, and the grids were printed so it was possible to checkmark times/places.

    I did show up to volunteer this year (after an exchange of emails to check time), but was later than I wanted to be thanks to a home-computer crisis; I was told (relatively politely) “we got all we can use” for mid-afternoon Thursday but might be needed that evening. Maybe Windows 10 won’t decide to covertly dis-support some additional video format next year.

    Brendan/Daniel: Boskone was in March — 45-47 years ago. One could claim ancient memories?

  6. Chip:

    I don’t have exact numbers yet but the no-show rate was about 10%. That’s at the high end of normal for us.

  7. Chip Hitchcock said:

    The Code of Conduct still has that nasty little twist in the rules for taking pictures of other people, where signers give Arisia the right to take and use their picture at any time/place and in any manner

    I understand the issues, but also see tricky-to-wrangle complexities, including group/crowd shots. Not to mention the reality that everyone all around (here) at Arisia but not (IMHO) part of Arisia in this sense is, of course, snapping and posting pix without asking before doing either. Plus, of course, nothing prevents people who don’t care about permissions from doing it regardless of what they may have signed, and, once posted, stuff can be hard to call back from cyberspace, and even when it can, the damage may already be done.

    and also

    Brendan/Daniel: Boskone was in March — 45-47 years ago. One could claim ancient memories?

    One could. But where’s the lost&found/unsold/remaindered office for claiming them? And I can’t find my claim stub.

  8. And that explains we missed our usual brief-but-always-pleasant chat.

    I stopped working on kids’ programming right after my own kid got his babysitting certificate from the Red Cross. That’s more than half a dozen years ago now.

    One of the slightly younger next-generation that I remember from those years showed up to help with tech this year, and I got to train her in running a followspot. With any luck, she’ll be back.

    Note, I’m a “Daniel” — I never use “Dan” (although I’ll cheerfully endorse checks to me made out that way).

    In person, I know that, but my typing hands have trouble resisting the single-syllable alliteration accompanying your surname. I’ll try harder to swat the fingers back in the future.

  9. Any book which a reader has somehow “marked” as one they wish or intend to read — whether on GoodReads, LibraryThing, Worlds Without End, a personal spreadsheet, or, for those who still have the mental capacity I no longer have, mentally — is legally on Mount Tsundoku (aka Mount TBR).

  10. Well, there goes my Mt. T… I have a pile of Locus review links to get to bit by bit.

    @Nicholas Shectman: sounds like the bodies-on-site was a hair higher than last year. It will be interesting to see whether the numbers rise in future years — particularly with the visible efforts the convention was making to listen to members’ concerns.

    @Daniel Dern: I grok that theory and practice differ; the issue for me-and is that the convention imposes official strictures on what members can do (I don’t know whether the rules have ever been enforced) but demands in return for entry that members formally allow the convention itself to do whatever it likes. I’m not sure why as I’ve never seen an official photographer; I did see a notice on the entrance to the Masquerade last year warning that people’s faces might be picked up and advising those with objections to watch the show on TV (an option not available to commuters), but that at least is a confined instance. ISTM that Arisia needs to heed Google’s motto in this regard.

  11. @Chip Hitchcock: Are there specific (being photographed/video’d) concerns you are willing/able to post (or ping me off-scroll), or is it the asymmetry? Are these concerns only wrt Arisia? — what about, say, Boskone (which, as you know, Bob, currently happens in February :-), WorldCon, etc.

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