John Picacio’s Experiment

John Picacio accepting the World Fantasy Award for Best Artist in 2005. Photo by Keith Stokes.

John Picacio is an eight-time Best Professional Artist Hugo nominee, winner of a World Fantasy Award, four Chesley Awards and many other honors. Fans saw a lot of him at last year’s Worldcon, Renovation. He spoke on 8 panels, exhibited in the Art Show, appeared in the Artist’s Alley, and even joined Stroll With The Stars.

Picacio was asked to write an article for Journey Planet #13, an invitation that provoked a thought process and decision that will result in fans seeing a lot less of him at Chicon 7.  

He’ll still be there – faced with the prospect of two Labor Day weekend conventions, Dragon*Con and Chicon 7, Picacio chose both:

I’ll be attending Atlanta’s Dragon*Con all day/night Friday, August 31, and the initial part of Saturday morning, and then I’ll jump on a plane, gain one hour in the process, and attend Chicago’s Worldcon for the last half of its run, until it closes.

Hellacious? Yes. Suicidal? Let’s hope not.

But Picacio also told readers of his blog  that he won’t be on the Chicon 7 program or exhibit in the Art Show:

I’ve announced that I’m foregoing all programming participation and art show presence at this year’s Worldcon. By doing so, I hope it opens up my chair, and my art show space, to new female artists who will hopefully present new viewpoints and perspectives. The call for “Gender Parity” has been a controversial one… Admittedly, I’m still unsure to what degree my gender and participation on sf/f panels and art shows has prevented females from participating in the same. Did I have opportunity that they did not because I’m male? Did my gender, and not my fifteen years of hard work, make the programming directors and the art show directors select me over an equally-deserving female? It seems more than a bit far-fetched, to be honest. But that being said, I’ve heard the discussion, and I’m willing to think beyond myself, and offer a self-imposed experiment. Let’s trust the process and see what happens.

His Journey Planet contribution takes the form of a letter to his young daughter and explains the gender parity issue and John’s decision. It’s a good read, so good that one almost forgets that Paul Cornell started the current controversy with a unilateral decision, not because women were “tapping him on the shoulder to step out of the way.”

However, Picacio is emphatic that his decision is sincere, not satirical, and that words weren’t enough, action was required. After reading in Journey Planet his explanation why he is stepping away from Worldcon programming this year I contacted him and asked:

Did you feel Chicon was closely identified with the 50/50 initiative or did you have another reason for choosing it to set this example?

Picacio replied:

I love Worldcon. I have so many friends there — professional, SMOF, and all across the gamut. This was a hard decision for me, especially in a year when I’m nominated for a Hugo, and wanted to participate to the best of my ability.

Frankly, since many of the personalities that were generating this discussion (for and against) are people who dwell at, or near, the epicenter of Worldcons and SMOF-centric sf/f cons, Chicon 7 seemed like the natural site to try this experiment. It’s not easy for me because I have a lot of friends on the Chicon committee. I wasn’t planning to do this until I got invited to write the essay for Journey Planet. That was the spark that prompted me to do something more than say “agree” or “disagree”. If it would’ve happened next year in San Antonio, I would’ve tried there. It just happened that this year was Chicago. Love the town. Love the people. No example being set against this con. Simple as that.

I don’t plan to make this an ongoing policy. It’s a one-time experiment — and I emphasize the word “experiment.” I’m hoping that some great female talent steps up and makes themselves known to Bobbie [DuFault, Chicon 7’s program organizer] so they can do some great programming, and I’m hoping that others take my place in the art show. I’m giving those who feel ignored and under-represented a pretty giant opportunity, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s see what they do with it. It’s up to them to make their case to the programming committee and the art show director. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Again, not an easy decision for me. Let’s hope some good comes of it.

From time to time conrunners need something to challenge us to work better. The sf field has grown quite large, making it hard to become personally familiar with everyone’s performance as a panelist. And there are so many willing participants who are known quantities, I don’t know how easy it is for new people to get noticed as quickly as they may deserve, especially here in North America with its large number of active writers, artists and editors. Does anybody want Paul Cornell or John Picacio to step aside? Unlikely. But the fact that they’ve done it may goad us into scouting the field more thoroughly and doing a more effective job of reaching out to the people we discover — actually doing it, not just agreeing it’s the real solution.

One thought on “John Picacio’s Experiment

  1. Looks like John Douglas behind Picacio, and probably David Harwell hidden by him.

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