FanWorks 2022 Wrap-Up
First, a note on this and future updates: we're going to be moving away from Dreamwidth a bit. The primary home of announcements, updates, info posts etc. will be here on the FanWorks blog, to keep as much information centralized on the con website as possible.
Announcements will be linked on Dreamwidth (rather than fully mirrored); planning posts requiring discussion (like panel brainstorming) will likely be kept on Dreamwidth for now. The easiest way to ensure that you have the latest updates is to follow us on twitter @fanworkscon, which will link to blog updates / announcements.
On another housekeeping note, exit surveys are now out to all Chicago and online attendees; if you didn't get an exit survey link to your registered email address, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get a survey to you.
(We'll start looking at survey responses this weekend, but we'll continue to check in on them at least through September, so there's plenty of time to respond!)
We're going to take this wrap-up post in three stages:
- A look back at the con planning process for 2022, aka "how we got here"
- A brief overview of the weekend, including things we think worked well and things we are already planning on tweaking for next year
- A look ahead at where we're at in con planning for 2023, and what you can expect from us next year
The 2022 con planning process started with one key goal: to find a cheaper hotel than we had in 2019. We've been open in the past about the fact that our contract in Detroit was pretty expensive, and while we met it without difficulty, we wanted to look for somewhere a bit more affordable.
We'd had a lot more space than we needed at the Sheraton, and downsizing the event space to save money on our 2020 contract would let us invest more in new A/V equipment (more projectors in panel rooms!) and fun stuff for Sparkle Motion (lights, decorations), in addition to adding some annual overheads to our budget for things like storage space for con equipment, van rental for equipment transport, and so on.
We went to the SpringHill O'Hare in large part because of an existing relationship with the group sales team there, and were able to negotiate a less expensive contract than we'd had at the Sheraton. The contract for 2020 was signed in late 2019. Jen and Morgan toured the SpringHill in January of 2020 to plan out the space for August, and it was a great, strange-in-hindsight trip with a lot of excitement for August 2020.
In March 2020, con staff met to discuss our options and decided to postpone the con. At that point, the furthest we were being allowed to postpone was 12 months from the postponement date – which would have been March 2021. We discussed a few options (October was felt to be too soon, March was a concern for potential Chicago winter weather), and ended up postponing the con until March 2021.
In May, as things continued to worsen, the hotel became more amenable to further postponement; we were able to move the con to August 2022. (At the time, that seemed impossibly far away.)
The planning process for the in-person con picked back up in December 2021. In January 2022, when reconnecting with the hotel staff, we learned that the entire sales team at the SpringHill had left in the intervening years, and our event was something of an unknown to the new staff. Later, it was discovered that due to the hotel staff changeover, the hotel had lost all access to our signed contract – something that gave us no small amount of concern, but was thankfully quickly resolved; this was the point at which we made an announcement to pause your travel booking, and unpaused once we had re-signed the contract for the hotel's records.
The April minicon came into existence due to concerns that we wouldn't be able to fulfill the room block we had contracted for in 2019. On our contract (and this is true for many/most cons that contract room blocks), we are financially liable for any rooms not booked below a minimum number; with dwindling numbers for 2022, we were fairly sure early on that we were not going to hit that number. Minicon fundraising gave us a buffer for that. (We used part of this to fund Corsi-Rosenthal boxes for the con rooms, which were great to have.)
As we closed in on August, for a variety of reasons, our staff count for the Chicago con shrunk down until the primary staff on site for the con weekend were Jen, Milly, and BTrain. (That was a pretty big drop from our first-year staff of twelve, and we couldn't have done it without a lot of people volunteering to help when needed. The Chicago con was for sure a group effort.) We also had lowered staffing for con planning and prep in general, and the staff we did have faced a variety of life events this year (we're at three con staff babies in 2022 and counting!), which created some new challenges and pushed our schedule a bit later in the year than usual.
One major scheduling challenge: we didn't have a ton of panel submissions to the con this year. The online con in particular only had one panel submission. (The second panel was volunteered by staff, but we can't fill a schedule that way – we're limited in how much panel programming we can put on ourselves while also running the con.) We know that some of our past panelists were simply tired and needed a break; in other cases, people who had done past online programming were in Chicago. All in all, the online con wound up very light on panels, which is a factor we're considering in 2023 planning (see the section on future planning for more on this).
Another scheduling challenge: we had decided early on in the 2022 process to cancel Sparkle Motion for the year due to covid safety concerns, and many of the people who had run past daytime and evening events weren't available for this year's con. We had to get a little creative with con scheduling for the Chicago side in particular, but in the end, we felt it had come together pretty well …
The Con Weekend
… so of course, the Chicago con schedule had to be changed on-site almost before the con had actually begun.
On Thursday night, we discovered that the projector in the main / panel room wasn't working. We decided to swap it out for the vidshow room projector – which also was not working.
(We still aren't sure why, but internet research has given us some theories. We're going to try to get these repaired in the off-season, so 🤞.)
BTrain and jarrow ran out on Friday morning to buy two new projectors: one high-quality projector for the vidshow room (fairly expensive, future-proof for at least the next several years), and one lower-quality projector for the panel room (fairly cheap, good for laptop hookups but probably not much else).
Exciting Logistical Challenges!
The problem then became that we had planned to have two vidshow-capable projectors, but now only had one, forcing us to switch the vidshow room into the larger space, Constellation (we would never all have fit into Concord for Premieres). That then in turn created a cascade of new problems, because Constellation was being flipped from theater-style seating to banquet tables for Saturday – something that the original schedule planned for, but now meant vidshows were being watched at table seating. We also couldn't show vidshows in Constellation and decorate it for Under the Sea at the same time, which resulted in In the Aughts getting moved to Sunday.
It was an Interesting Time. We appreciated so, so much everyone being very understanding about the circumstances and flexible about programming, particularly Nelle, alpheratz and corbae for coming up with Saturday afternoon panels on the fly when it looked like those hours were going to lack programming entirely.
The new fancy projector was set up just in time for the Welcome to FanWorks Chicago panel on Friday at 10:00am con time. We still had to finish audio set-up, the panel room, etc., so Variations got moved into the evening timeslot, resulting in Trivia being canceled. We used that time to scramble to get everything ready for the 1:00pm panels and vidshows, and fortunately all of that was set in time; that was more or less the end of our A/V complications for the weekend.
The Online Con
We know there wasn't as much to do at the online con this time around, and we're considering a few possible solutions for that (see below, in the section on future planning). On the whole, the Saturday panels went well, online watch-along vidshows remain delightful, and the Zoom socials were fun – it was great to see / hear / socialize with people!
The online con did feel disconnected from the Chicago con; we haven't done live streaming of panels to this point due to privacy concerns, but we also know that a truly hybrid con would carry over more in-person content, and that's something we're keeping in mind as we plan for next year.
One specific complication we ran into with the online con was in the Discord invites, which was a twofold problem:
- Some attendees didn't get Discord invites on their website dashboards. This was a database error, due to the fact that some registrations were rolled over from 2020 and some were new to 2022.
- A few of you who had Discord invite problems wrote in to the fanworkscon email address on Thursday; unfortunately, the people with access to that inbox were dealing with the unfolding tech crisis at the Chicago con, and weren't able to reply until after the Discord issue had been resolved.
The second one is an easy fix: in the future, we're going to have a separate inbox for the online con, one that can be assigned to the online con staff in any given year. Access to the main inbox is limited for privacy and security reasons, as attendee personal info is sometimes communicated there, but it's easy enough to create and communicate an email address where the full online con staff will be monitoring for messages.
The first one should be a non-repeating issue, but we have also had past Discord invite errors for other, entirely different reasons, so we're going to look at ways to make the process a little smoother for next year. (There's a question on the exit survey regarding this.)
Meanwhile, in Chicago
All in all, the Chicago con went well, challenges aside! Panels went well, vidshows looked great, and Under the Sea was a very fun space to hang out in for Saturday game night (if a little dim – the almost complete lack of wall outlets led to some lighting challenges). The forest quiet room got a lot of use, and was such a great, soothing space to hang out in with a book or a laptop that we're going to look into ways to keep it open longer throughout the weekend.
The con suite was often not open / available, and that comes down to a lack of staffing; that shouldn't be an issue next year. We've heard a lot of enthusiasm for the con suite as a crafting space, and will be looking for ways to expand on that in 2023.
There were two things in particular that stood out to us about the weekend, all else aside:
One was the sheer quantity of food. We had to spend five thousand dollars on catering no matter how many attendees we had (our final count, including staff, was 30 people for the Chicago weekend), and were further constrained by needing the food to be takeaway-ready and the fact that the hotel doesn't allow hot food to be taken out of the con space. That immediately limited us to lunch boxes and desserts, so there were a lot of those.
As we shop for hotels for 2023, we're going to be looking for catering options with a little more flexibility than this; we know that by Sunday, many/most of you (and us) were looking for a break from sandwich lunches.
The other was the unexpectedly changed vibe of the con hotel. Our past experience with the SpringHill was that it was a relatively quiet hotel, used primarily by flight crews. In 2022, the hotel has become much more crowded / active, particularly with family groups. We had a lot more people from outside the con going through the event space than we were used to. Fortunately this was never a significant problem, but it did lead to some (Interesting!) situations where people thought the catered food was for anyone to take, people walked into the forest quiet room expecting to find a hallway to second floor rooms, and on one memorable occasion, an instance where someone tried to let themselves into Premieres "just to check it out."
We're going to be very focused on hotels with event space that isn't a pass-through area for other guests, which hopefully should cut back on these issues. In 2019 at the Sheraton, the event space was fairly private, and that's common to most hotel set-ups.
We aren't entirely sure what the shape of 2023 will be yet – there are a number of questions on the exit surveys related to future planning, and those will help enormously as we look to make some key decisions for 2023 by Labor Day (2022).
These are a few of the early decisions we're looking to make:
- A permanent annual virtual con in early April(?)
The minicon was a great opportunity to come together and hang out, watch new vids, chat in panels, etc., before the summer con season. We had a lot of feedback (both in April and at the August cons) that people would like the April minicon to be an annual event.
What form that takes is an open question, and depends a bit on another question we're pondering:
- Sticking to a full in-person + full online mode in August, or moving back to streaming supporting memberships
In 2019, the "supporting" membership gave access to the con vidshow streams through the website, and that was it. We're considering something close to that for August 2023: instead of an online con membership, a streaming+ membership that has a lower price point, access to the vidshow streams, and membership on the con Discord, with all of its usual social, vidshow, and DIY channels.
If we go this route, we would make the April con a full two-day weekend online con, rather than a one-day minicon, and focus online programming there.
This year, some of our con staff were working from home rather than attending in Chicago; next year, most of those staff members are hoping to return to the in-person con. We're going to be doing some recruiting for online-only (and other) staff positions, which should help balance that out some – but staff attention will still be to some extent divided, and we want to make sure we're giving the online con the attention it deserves. This year's online side didn't get as much programming attention as it could have, and we know there were definitely times when there wasn't a whole lot to do. There were a variety of reasons for this (an over-dependence on panel submissions, people who had led online events in the past attending in Chicago instead, staff life situations), but no matter what the reasons, we felt the end result was a relatively quiet Discord mostly focused on vidshow streams. Moving the online con to a different area of the calendar so that we can treat it as its own entity would very likely help us put on a much better online con.
Still, we're considering all options. We know people are interested in a truly hybrid online con option for August, so we're thinking on ways we could do that, too. There are a few survey questions related to this, so if you have opinions, please don't forget to fill out your survey.
We should have a decision in hand on this by the end of the month, so that there's plenty of time to plan ahead for 2023. We're also going to set tentative premiering vid deadlines in that window, so that vidders can better plan ahead; the deadlines for August may change by a week or so later on given that we don't have con dates yet, but they should be roughly accurate.
With regards to the in-person con, some things we're considering are:
- Is there going to be an in-person con in 2023?
At this point, we're planning for there to be an in-person FanWorks in August 2023. On-site feedback in Chicago was quite unified on this – those at the con this year want to come back, and we want that too.
A lot will depend on other factors, but we're proceeding with planning an in-person con for next year, and we should know for sure by the end of the year.
- When will the in-person con be held?
If the con stays in Chicago, we're hoping for the weekend of August 12th (to avoid Lollapalooza). If the con moves to another city, we'll be aiming for the weekend of August 5th. All of that is subject to change based on hotel availability.
- Where will the in-person con be held?
We're looking at a variety of places in the midwest. Right now, our focus is on Chicago and the metro Detroit region, both places we've done past cons. We're also looking at hotels in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and other cities with major airports.
- What trade-offs are we willing to make to get space that would work better for us?
Hotel searching can be complex: we have to find space that works for the con, is affordable for us and you, is in an accessible location, and ticks at least a few of the boxes on our wish list.
One of the questions on the exit survey asks what trade-offs you, as an attendee, would be willing to make; another asks which hotel features are most important to you. These are key questions we'll be considering as we narrow down our hotel search.
On our end of things, a key item on our 2023 wishlist is outdoor space. The SpringHill's tiny, four-seat courtyard full of freeway noise wasn't the best place to socialize outside, and we definitely want to upgrade that at our next location.
How good the outdoor space is … is an open question. How much would we (you as attendees, us as financial & logistics staff) be willing to give up in order to secure a hotel that had outdoor space where we could have Sparkle Motion? There are a few hotels on our shortlist that are set up for outdoor weddings, so it isn't out of the question, but those hotels tend to be a bit more isolated from walkable restaurants. There are a lot of "X or Y" questions like this facing us while we hotel shop, but we're going to do our best to pick a location that will hit as many of our key needs as possible.
A few other notes for the future:
- The first thing we've been doing as we start to shift into 2023 mode is shuffling con staff around a bit to make sure our key needs are addressed – both con needs and our individual needs as people. Con staffing in the covid era is very different to what we were used to before, sometimes in ways that didn't become apparent until things were underway; we're adjusting for that now.
This will include some staff recruitment, so if you're interested in joining FanWorks staff – either for the in-person con, or as an online-only staff member (all time zones welcome) – look for a list of open positions this weekend.
- One of the staff positions we're looking to add is specifically for communications, in part so that we can have a staff person assigned to sending out emails to attendees as the con weekend nears. We won't be sending out a ton of emails – probably registration confirmation, a notice when panel submissions open, a reminder of the con weekend as it approaches, and the exit surveys. Other important things may pop up, like the surveys we sent to 2020 registrants this year to confirm participation, but on the whole, we'll be keeping our presence in your inbox as minimal as possible.
As a reminder, if you were registered for the attending or online sides of the August 2022 con, the vidshow streams will be available to you for at least three months. That's all we guarantee, but in practice, those vidshows stay up indefinitely; current attendees should also have access to all past FanWorks vidshows under "Past Conventions," as we generally don't take streams down after the con.
If you have any questions, the email@example.com inbox is monitored during the off-season, but others may not be; we encourage you to write in there for con-related issues.
We'll be back in the next few weeks with more info on what to expect next year!