Wednesday, March 18, 2015

KawaKon 2015: Artist Alley Review

ICYMI I wrote a pretty raving review about last year’s KawaKon despite the snow and being in a big tent outside. In years past, Kawa has always been very iffy for artists and dealers alike. No one ever made enough to travel far, so it is now mostly local artists who hit it up for a quick home show, but even a lot of local artists I know won’t even go back.

I’ve always done fairly well at this convention, despite the negative trend. It’s also really nice to know everyone that tabling in the whole thing. Seeing friends is the best part of KawaKon. I don’t know how much Kawa has really grown as a con. If it’s happening, it’s slow growth. They’re also a much more non-denominational convention, catering to every kind of geekdom. Seems to me like it’s more and more scifi and TV series fans like Supernatural and Dr. Who.

I’m not a fan of the airport region because like any airport region, there’s a ton of traffic. However, the upside is that there are also a lot of hotels and diners. Free parking is hard to come by because all the lots and garages are meant for travelers, but the hotel discounted their usual rate from $12 to $5 for the convention.

KawaKon chose to host their convention in the same hotel as last year, the Airport Marriot in St. Louis. Last year, there were a myriad of complaints about this place, from rude staff to parking problems. I was actually really surprised they went back.

The Marriot is located right off Interstate 70, so the drive is pretty easy from either direction. Parking last year was very limited, and on Saturday and Sunday I, and many others, were told to go park in the airport parking, which was almost 3x the price of Marriot parking. This year, however, I was able to park at the Marriot all three days. I’m not sure if it’s because fewer people went or some other fluke, but I was happy not to have to walk all the way around the fence between the two lots. Oh, and pay a small fortune.

But like all Marriots, this place is really nice. Luxurious rooms, beautiful lobby. This year, all my interactions with hotel staff were wonderful, a big improvement from last year. All my [parking] problems were solved quickly and I never had any problems.

Artist Space
This year we were once again in the big tent outside. Fortunately, this weekend was much warmer than last year! Locked doors, carpeting, vents, ceiling fans, power. What I think we were missing was a sign with the open hours, and perhaps a little more security. All three days, I walked in and out without anyone at the door checking badges, and quite a few attendees just sort of wandered in before the room was open.

Last year, the vents that blew air in were pumping in plenty of heat to keep us toasty warm. This year, with the weather in the 50-60s and sunny, the vents alternated between hellfire and Hoth. By Sunday, they just pumped AC down on us with a fury and most of the weekend was actually pretty chilly since all the tables are positioned right underneath the vents. In fact, my backdrop got blown over on Sunday from the gust.

One thing I noticed Friday evening was it got dark. While we had lights overhead, there were whole sections of the tent that got nothing but a little backglow from a light. Whole rows of tables were plunged in dim lighting and I’m sure it didn’t help their sales. Vendors starting bringing in their own floor lamps and lighting fixtures Saturday.

Artists were given 8’ tables, which I love. I’m pretty sure the contract says 6’, but we got 8’ tables last year too. The way the tent was set up, I’d say it was dealers in the front and along the wall, with all the artists, minus a few, in the back of the room. I got caught up across from a huge dealer with 5 tables and dealers to my back, and I think I disappeared a little this year.

Traded from Mimosa Studios.
There were a lot more artists this year, and most of them were crafts. Kanzashi, a lot of jewelry, and a lot of small sewn items. There were only a handful of us with prints. Because I know all the artists that come to Kawa each year, it’s hard for me to sit down and describe all the variety because I see these guys a lot. >_< I will note what was totally missing from the artist side though: plush. Aside from a handful of small ornament sized toys, no one sold plush! I was disappointed.

Sales & Attendees
Sales were dismal for me this year. Ok not just me, but I didn’t expect it since Kawa had been a pretty core convention for me since I started doing this. Not this time. Not sure if my luck ran out or if it was some misfortune, but this year’s sales were pretty much not worth my weekend.

Friday at open, a small crowd went straight for the vendors. Most of Kawa’s demographic is teenaged, with a handful of little kids and parents. There’s not really many young adults or adults that come. Because I was around an inside corner across from one of the biggest dealers, I spent all weekend watching people walk right past my table and not even realize it was there. They would come around the corner, walk down the dealer’s tables, and pass me entirely before turning around to check out the artists.

The traffic was constant, although it seemed like most of them were just milling about. A handful of purchases were made once in a while at the tables but, the crowd was very keen to just keep walking. I went hours without a single person stopping to talk. It actually got so bad, I started playing on my phone. I NEVER do that, because I think it’s a distraction from the work. By Saturday evening, I heard a lot of people complaining that they had spent all their money. That’s never a good sign. It actually took me until halfway through Saturday to break even. Considering all my overhead consisted of was gas (one fill up), table cost ($60), and a handful of snacks, that was ridiculous.

On Sunday, in retrospect, I probably should’ve just gone home and spent the afternoon with my parents watching strange Chinese TV programs. I didn’t even make enough in the last day to go pig out on fast food. That’s my ritual, don’t judge me. I didn’t sell a single item in the last four hours of Sunday, ending my weekend with a fizzle.
Went to go cheer myself up with some sushi on Saturday night.

Staff & Volunteers
I only ever deal with one staff member and I never have any problems with her. However, I will say that things seemed disorganized this year. Perhaps it was the case last year, but I didn’t notice it as much. There just seemed to be a lot of people wandering in when we were closed, no one knew when we were open, and just general little things getting overlooked. Like unreturned emails.

Final Verdict
Despite having been a faithful artist at KawaKon, this will be my last year. It simply didn’t do well enough to justify going back to, especially since I will be cutting down my conventions in 2016. I don’t recommend it, to dealers or artists, if you’re expecting a high overhead. Most of us who have been attending know that sales usually go “ok” but we don’t have hotel costs and wages to pay.

There was also quite a fiasco that involved police, and a lot of people got really heated over it. I didn’t witness anything, so I won’t comment, but there’s quite a bit of anger floating around the internet about whatever happened. All I know is, there were a lot of cops in the lobby.

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