Tuesday, February 25, 2014

KawaKon 2014: Review for Artists

All right! This will be my fifth year attending KawaKon in my beautiful (ish) home of St. Louis, MO. So Kawa has always been one of those shows that has an iffy artist/dealer area. I think the best way to describe it is like this: You go to KawaKon not because you want to make a lot of money, but because there’s no other shows nearby in February and it’s not that bad. In years past, I know that a large portion of the artists and dealers struggle to break even and make enough to justify another year. Well 2014 proved me wrong hardcore.

We got a ton of snow the week before the show, and even a little bit over the weekend. I know of at least 2 artists that decided to not attend at the last minute because the weather and roads were so bad for travel. Heck, we had to dig our way out of almost a foot of snow just so my car could reach the interstate for the drive back to St. Louis. It was pretty nuts. Despite weather difficulties, this was the best year for Kawa’s artists and dealers by far. I do have some serious complaints about the hotel/venue, but aside from that, all was smooth sailing. So here goes the review of the artist alley.


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Venue
Kawakon 2014 was originally to be hosted in the gorgeous Millenium hotel in downtown St. Louis. Unfortunately, the hotel closed just a few months before the convention and KawaKon staff had to scramble to find another venue. The convention moved to the Airport Marriot in St. Louis. Sounds good right? I mean, it’s the freaking Marriot! Big, spacious, and pretty ritzy. Easy access right off Interstate 70 was a plus. Once off the highway though, it became pretty confusing.

The Marriot’s parking was definitely not able to handle regular guests and the convention, but it wasn’t really clear where we could park. I had never been to that location before so I ended up turning down some side street and got lucky that I found an entrance to hotel parking. Well guess what? You pay for parking. Granted, KawaKon posted this information on their website as well as in an email to vendors (which I never received), but we were told parking would be $5 and would be discounted at the front desk.

On Friday after locking up, I went to the front desk where an attendant told me to go pay at the machine in the hallway, but didn’t give me a discount. I asked to speak with another employee who then gave me the discount but was a little rude about it when I tried to re-explain my situation. It took me almost 45 minutes to leave the hotel. Saturday morning I arrived, ready to pull into the same parking lot and a man wearing a Marriot jacket stopped me and told me that ALL convention attendees had to park in the next parking over, “The Parking Spot”, which is a long-term airport parking lot. I explained that I had parked there yesterday and was told to park specifically in the Marriot lot but he just shrugged and turned me away. As I back out, I watched him let in the 3 cars behind me. So, a little irritated, I parked over in the other lot (which was way more expensive), and trudged through ice and snow around the fence to get to the Marriot.

It was also explained to me that the Marriot would not honor their $5 parking arrangement with people who parked in the other lot. When I explained that I was forced to park there, they told me it was because hotel parking was full. That was complete crap because not only did the cars go in after me, there were at least two dozen empty spaces in the lot when I walked across. I had considered the thought that maybe the spots are somehow reserved for guests of the hotel but that’s not the case.

Sunday I gave up and parked in the airport lot again. I think the worst part was trudging through the snow and having to deal with the front desk staff who were not only vague in answering my questions, but disinterested and downright rude to me and other artists/attendees who asked the same questions. Quite a few other artists got bad attitude from hotel staff when asking different questions about parking, loading/unloading, etc. I WILL NEVER GO TO ANOTHER CONVENTION AT THE AIRPORT MARRIOT. Period.

Edit: 9/28/2014
I called the Marriot since KawaKon 2015 will be held there again and inquired about the specific staff members I had problems with. According to the person I spoke to on the phone, those individuals were either no longer working for the hotel or would not be directly involved with the convention.

Artist Space
So this will make you laugh. You know those giant white tents people use for outdoor weddings and rich people fundraisers? Yeah, artists and dealers were in that. Now when I first saw it, I seriously considered turning around and leaving, but it wasn’t actually that bad. The tent had glass doors, ceiling lights, and even carpet. Warm air was also pumping in the tent via two giant vents up top. Unfortunately, all the tables and booths were set up in a way that the vents blew right on everyone. My eyes dried out and a lot of displays waved but it was pretty warm. Unfortunately since the tent was outside, anyone wanting to come in to shop had to brave the freezing cold for about 25 feet to get in. Judging by some cosplays, it was pretty insane.

Artists and vendors were mixed together but it worked out pretty well. There was enough space in between booths and tables that no one disappeared behind someone else’s display. Artists got 5’x2’ tables, which was kinda sucky. I got lucky and snagged an extra one from a vendor that didn’t want it. A few other artists also managed to grab an extra table or space from those that didn’t attend or just extra laying around.  Because the tent had real doors, they locked up every night, which was so nice. Of course I didn’t feel a tent was going to be secure, lockable doors or not, but I wasn’t going to be able to haul my stuff through the snow and across the street to my car.

Variety
KawaKon featured a ton of artists this year. I’m not sure if it was really more than last year or if it just felt bigger, but the room had some good vibes going on. One of my favorite things about home shows is seeing all my friends in the AA. Wil Woods (Musetap), Nick Minor (Radiant Grey), Spiderloom, Katherine (Sew-It-All Creations), Kate Sherron… you get the point. People! KawaKon always attracts a great variety because they’re not just an anime convention. Over the last five years, I’ve watched this convention grow and transform outside the anime bounds and into a steampunk, fantasy, and scifi collective. Because of this, you can find Lolita accessories, steampunk jewelry, bead sprites, prints for every fandom, and all sorts of stuff.

This year I’d like to point out that I finally found a kanzashi artist. If you don’t know what kanzashi is, it’s the art of making fabric flowers. Oh but it’s tons more complicated than that and they are gorgeous and worth every penny. At some point I will list all the artists I have cards and information for on my resources page, but that will be another day. Dealers are also well diversified. It’s pretty much down to the “regular” vendors now, but they each have their own niche. Manga, snacks, plushies, clothing, figurines, and other cool stuff that I can’t afford.

Sales & Attendees 
Like I’ve already mentioned, home shows are a great break for me. I get to visit my parents, see my friends, and get back in touch with my foundation of convention peeps. First and foremost, I’d like to give props to anyone that came into the big exhibitor’s tent. Seriously, people had to brave single digit temperatures in their cosplays, avoiding giant patches of ice to come to us. Even with the cold, there was a decently steady flow of traffic. It slowed down at times, but was never dead or empty. KawaKon has always been a late-bloomer kinda convention for sales. Most of the shopping is done on Sunday. Don’t know why, just happens that way each year.

Friday was surprisingly good for me, and many other vendors moved their high dollar items. As the weekend trickled on, more little knick knack type stuff sold and sales became pretty steady all around. I was surprised to find myself waiting for an opportunity to go to the bathroom or grab a drink. I was by myself and it’s usually pretty underwhelming. This year I had people stopping to talk every few seconds, even if they didn’t buy anything. It was pretty nice.  At the end of the weekend, I can’t say sales were above and beyond for me. We pretty much did as well as last year, which is nothing to complain about. But it certainly felt busier, and I know I’m not the only one. Many of the other artists I spoke to mentioned this year being the best year KawaKon’s had so far. That certainly bodes well for artists next year.

Staff
And finally, convention staff. Make note, I’m not talking about hotel staff, to whom I’ve already ripped a new butthole in the first few paragraphs. So Ramona is the head of the AA, and I’m 99% sure she was last year as well. My years have started running together… Ramona is really helpful. She always emailed me back with well written answers and each time I approached her with a question or problem during the convention (that happened a lot) she was on top of figuring it out. I really appreciate that. Be warned, she is very blunt. Admirable unless you’re a pansy. Convention staff and volunteers were fantastic. The security guys were polite, and other staff offered to help pack up vendors on Sunday. Great success, in my opinion.  My only not-really-complaint is that I somehow got left off the list of emails for last minute information. Let’s say I was flying blind when I arrived. Didn’t know about parking costs, the tent, where to unload, etc. But everyone else says that got an email so I’m sure it was a fluke and not negligence.
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So despite terrible weather and unpleasant interactions with the hotel staff, I will agree with many that this was KawaKon’s best year. If they keep it up, it will be a convention worth travelling to for more artists further away. Hopefully they’ll pick a new venue next year.

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