A con committee is a team of volunteers and they deserve the gratitude of the members for their services. Even when a convention was a disappointment or a bit of a mess we should still appreciate that at least the event actually happened. So the standard convention committee member has a reasonably respected non-professional status when it comes to convention running and that’s the way it should be.
But they deal with other people’s lucre in the form of seed monies and individual memberships, plus arts funding (when they go down that path) and things not given in coin like airfares and the like by publishers when they bring out a writer. So the regular member of a con committee has an obligation to see themselves as volunteer professionals and the average convention member and convention guest has the right to see committee members as such too and expect a quality of service, because in the end, despite all the feel goodiness, there is still a transaction going on.
A convention has the obligation to provide the service paid for. Sure, we all don’t try to think like that in the convention environment, but it should still be the silent understanding between convention and member. It shouldn’t be so silent within the committee meetings though. Despite being a “for the good of the community” team of amateurs (even when one is a certified accountant doing the accounts or a working designer doing the promotions) a professional sense of responsibility is the expected of any committee utilizing money that’s not their own and who actively seek more members and in the process more money.
So a commonsense professional attitude is something any committee member should maintain during the actual business of running a convention. I think we can all agree that’s a good way for things to be and I think many of us agree that the reality is often not like that. But then the whole process of running conventions is to free the dreams of a super groovy con from the tight binds of hard pragmatism and the reality of human foibles. And the only bind breaker I can see is the power of clear-headed commonsense.
Now, from my experience there are three general types of committee members, the dreamers, the workers and the useless. Often dreamers and workers tend to be attracted to their own kind and so you usually end up with either a committee full of super cool ideas and ambitious projects and taking conventions to strange and new horizons or a committee wanting to go back to basics, keeping it all simple and traditional.
In most cases the dreamer committee see all the dreams fall apart leaving just a taste of the sumptuous banquet they had in mind within a convention that doesn’t run all that smoothly. And frankly, much of the committee had to go through so much shit - infighting, the aforementioned useless who attach themselves to dreamers, the failure to see how reality likes simplicity – that they are grateful just to get to the closing ceremony intact.
The worker committee delivers a competent, but wholly unremarkable convention that cannot be disliked or treated as a failure but all too often fails to spark fresh enthusiasm for the con going experience and certainly doesn’t stay long in the memory of convention history. Indeed, many a dreamer committee was formed from what they perceived as the tedium of the worker committee con.
Both are valid philosophies, both have their place in the scheme of things. The dreamer committee creates change, updates the format, keeping the zeitgeist in the crowd. The dreamer committee’s problem is they forget their uplifting ideas are connected to rickety frames with wax, often shoddily glued on by those who have yet to grasp the concept of unpaid professionalism. When the con flies too close to the sun, when the pressure is on, suddenly committee members pull out, have hissy fits, battles of ego head butting, find excuses not to do their job, do all the shit foible ridden humans do.
The worker committee may not have any grandiose plans, or drastic ideals of change and development, but they deliver a convention pretty much as they said they would. Yes, it might be dull and break no new ground, but it happens and usually smoothly. Boring as that sounds, it is crucial such committees exist because they ensure a convention is delivered every year, they fill in when the new ideas committee doesn’t eventuate or, yes, even collapses in a debate of their own importance (though thankfully, this has been terribly rare). And though they try nothing particularly new, they do tend to keep what has worked in the past, stuff created by the dreamers.
We need dreamers and ideas people for the future of conventions. It is their ideas that keep conventions fresh, alive, attract new members, new generations of members, turn the convention experience into a vibrant, exciting experience to partake of year after year. They are the icing the plain cake of convention structure needs. But it is too often the case with the dreamers to mistake the icing for the cake.
And the workers understand the cake. The workers know something very important. Yes, a yearly convention always needs and should crave new blood, but the core of convention membership that come back year after year, the lifeblood, are not geared to bells and whistles, they aren’t apposed to them either, but these regulars are in the habit of seeking or making their own entertainment at conventions, usually via the company of fellow regulars and friends, and all they really want to know is that there will be a convention next year and it will be at least competently run.
Luckily, for the Swancon experience this phenomenon has resulted in an unbroken chain (though it has come close once or twice) for an astonishing 36 years and shows no signs of changing that pattern. This has been because of the oscillating nature of dreamer and worker committees to ensure there are always conventions year after year, having just enough continual development to not die a heat death. And every so often, a convention comes along that creates such a momentum to give the thread of conventions new life for years. Those conventions are usually by a committee of dreamers and workers, old hands and fresh blood who have successfully come together and worked in harmony. These committees strap cool ideas to sturdy tried and true frames and they don’t use wax to keep it all together, they have found the secret formula of commonsense professionalism.