Con Culture through the lens of Salt City Steamfest 2016

So, yesterday (Saturday) I went to Salt City Steamfest (obviously, a steampunk convention) in West Valley City.

A modest venue, with a dozen or two venders, artists, and authors; four panel areas; a stage for music and larger panel discussions; and even an outdoor nerf battle area.

Vendor floor Wares

band

There were some cosplayers, of course, including a steampunk Bumblebee

Steampunk Bumblebee

and an alternate-history Commander Data. (Can it be alternate history if it’s fictional history being toyed with?)

 Steampunk Data

They even had mermaids:

Mermaids

Not too shabby. It didn’t take long to see everything, of course, but the whole thing got me to thinking.

There were no “celebrities” there. No booths of various anime creations. Just a few hundred steampunk aficionados. Die hard devotees of all things Victorian, gear-driven, alchemical, and alternative history.

Which is great. That’s what cons of this nature are supposed to be about: fans with a singular passion getting together to celebrate and share in what they love.

But…

But it was small. Very small. So small that I wonder if cons such as this one can survive.

In this day and age of mega-cons like San Diego, New York, Wizard, and Salt Lake (just to name a few), which feature so many different fandoms, how long can small, specialized cons like Steamfest compete?

In Steamfest’s case, not for long. They are billing this weekend as the last Steamfest.

Of course, someone may come in and try to keep it going, but it doesn’t remove the central issue, which is: is bigger, better?

I mean, can you go into a comic con and easily hear a harpist?

Harpist

I think we all know the answer to that.

So, is bigger, better?

It certainly is nice to go to have the option to attend a single event which caters to various fandoms, especially since most people have more than one. It allows for a single trip, a planned expense, and countless distractions of all shapes and sizes, in addition to the opportunity to discover a new fandom you might never have considered before.

But does anything get lost in the vastness of the mega-conventions. Some sense of uniqueness, of knowing that you can find exactly the kinds of things you are looking for, and encounter those who share your passion at every turn, because that’s what the event is all about? Your passion and nothing more?

It feels like when everyone was saying mom and pop shops were going to be put out of business by the big box stores, and then they were. Now there is a movement to remind people to “shop local.”

Will the mega-cons go the same way? Will they all become so big, like San Diego, New York, Denver, and Salt Lake City, that they eventually implode under the weight of their own success, and smaller cons will re-emerge as bastions for fandoms, like they started out as.

Star Trek Cons?

Star Wars Cons?

Comic (book) Cons?

I don’t know. San Diego and Salt Lake City have already outgrown their available space, forcing themselves into new and creative uses of their respective venues.

Is this a harbinger of things to come?

How do you all feel about it?

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