ConQuesT 54 Challenges

ConQuesT 54 Challenges

By Jan S. Gephardt

My ConQuesT 54 challenges provided yet another rough sf con experience. I love ConQuesT. It’s my “home con,” and I’ll go to every one I can. But ConQuesT 54 was kinda hard to love in several ways, and for several reasons. Post-Pandemic, and somewhat like DemiCon, it’s a smaller convention struggling against some bad breaks.

Don’t get me wrong: there were a lot of bright spots, from my perspective. I reconnected with old friends, met some new ones, saw a lot of good artwork, and had great fun on my panels. Weird Sisters Publishing coordinated with our “Kansas City Author Friend” M.C. Chambers on a double-expanse of Dealers Table that gave us more elbow room than it turned out we actually needed.

And I got to wear my “Queen of A Universe” tiara (commissioned from Sara Felix after I wrote a blog post that included my self-anointing). I wore it all weekend, in honor of its maker, our Artist Guest of Honor. And also because I was on two world-building panels, and why wouldn’t I wear my tiara to those? After all, how bad can a weekend be, if you get to wear a tiara through it?

All the same, the ConQuesT 54 challenges highlight problems that should concern anyone who loves fandom.

Our complete table setup spread over two, 6-foot tables stretched our “Nebula 2” tablecloth to its limit. On the table, Weird Sisters-published books and the books of our Kansas City Author Friends are laid out or staged against tiered, draped stacks of boxes, to give the display more height. Our “Welcome to Rana Station” banner stands behind approximately the middle of our display. At left, Pascal Gephardt sits behind the table in a blue shirt. At right a costumed M. C. Chambers (complete with plumed hat) also sits. They face each other, having a conversation.
Pascal Gephardt and M. C. Chambers have a conversation at our ConQuesT 54 dealers table. Tablecloth “Nebula 2” design in ©2021 by Chaz Kemp. Photo by Jan S. Gephardt.

Some ConQuesT 54 Challenges

I think that comment in my opening paragraph about smaller conventions facing mounting post-Pandemic challenges deserves some more unpacking.

First, a lot of habits and patterns got scrambled during the Pandemic. Our technological solutions for bridging distances, fending off virulent viruses, and dealing with isolation were more successful in some areas than others. Like a lot of smaller cons, ConQuesT struggled to keep the con-going experience alive via “virtual ConQuesTs” (see my log post about Virtual ConQuesT 52).

The same “hit” to the habits of church-going and reporting daily to the office has dealt blows, to both sf convention committees and attendees. The organizations that put on these small, all-volunteer conventions saw lags in membership, which rippled into the committees putting on conventions.

This year’s image is a book with bright bubbles and fairy dust rising from its glowing pages. The words say, “ConQuesT 54 June 2 @12:00 p.m. – June 4 @6:00 p.m.”
For the first time that I can remember, ConQuesT was not on Memorial Day Weekend. The convention also moved to a new hotel. Image courtesy of ConQuesT 54 website.

Yet MORE ConQuesT 54 Challenges

Another pandemic-related issue is also generational. Many small conventions started (like ConQuesT) in a different era (That “54” marks us as a convention that’s been around for half a century). Our original founders are now elderly, and – especially with fhannish habits being what they are – many have developed health issues or even died.

The generations picking up the sf con torches don’t depend on them for connection to fandom the way their parents and grandparents did. Science fiction and fantasy aren’t looked upon as “weird” by as many people as in earlier generations. They’ve gone mainstream in ways the first generation mesmerized by Star Trek (yes, “TOS,” the original series) never could’ve imagined.

Also, there’s the Internet. Want to chat? Just hop onto Discord (or any of a bunch of others). An oldstyle sf con used to be almost the only place to meet and talk with other fans. Now it competes with many other outlets.

The lights were on and the doors were open, but as these three photos and inset details from others show, the shoppers had lots of elbow room.
What are these “crowds” of which you speak? The Art Show and Dealers Room were pretty empty on Friday afternoon of ConQuesT 54. It didn’t really get a whole lot busier on Saturday or Sunday. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt and Pascal Gephardt.

How Does that Translate into the ConQuesT 54 Experience?

My own ConQuesT 54 challenges (like those at DemiCon 34) were partially rooted in these generational and demographic issues. The concom was small and partially inexperienced. But their challenges extended well beyond the very real issue of too many jobs for too few people.

They also came from more than “just” the full, universal suite of post-Pandemic and generational challenges. Those would be bad enough! Then add hotel-based scheduling challenges that forced ConQuesT out of our recent “standard” venue and off of the Memorial Day Weekend date we’ve claimed for decades. At some point it becomes an existential threat.

They say you can’t go home again, and the return of ConQuesT to the Hilton Kansas City Airport was a good case in point. That same hotel had been “home” to several ConQuesT years during the late 1990s and early 2000s. We moved because we outgrew it. When we returned, we’d shrunk till we definitely “fit” inside the facility again.

But time has moved on, and that facility ain’t what it used to be. They have an elderly, malfunctioning HVAC system and a very leaky roof. Our room was literally too cold for comfort until we’d completely turned off the system and kept the curtains open to promote solar warming for a couple of days. One programming room earned a nickname of “The Fridge.” Part of the Dealers Room flooded. And our “name that tune” panel had a “percussion track,” AKA rainwater dripping into buckets.

Four snapshots around the Airport Kansas City Hilton show views both outside and in.
Photos from the Kansas City Airport Hilton are by Tyrell E. Gephardt and Jan S. Gephardt.

Learning From ConQuesT 54 Challenges?

Yes, there were a lot of ConQuesT 54 Challenges to overcome. Challenges came for everyone from the concom through the panelists and dealers, and all the way to the most casual fan on a day-pass. They came from a variety of sources. And many could, with the will and effort to do so, be overcome.

But, unfortunately, not all could be mitigated or wished away. Some of the “tougher nuts to crack” don’t have immediately-obvious solutions. Yet ConQuesT and its sponsoring organization the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society must find solutions. It’s not only their problem, however. In many ways the whole world of smaller, fan-run science fiction conventions faces these ongoing dilemmas.

Was everything bad? No! As I noted at the beginning, ConQuesT 54 wasn’t only a story of challenges. It also offered reasons to keep on loving that world of smaller, fan-run sf cons. Despite its issues, ConQuesT 54 offered me a litany of bright spots, laughter, and a joy that seems unique to this kind of gathering. I’ll explore the “Good Parts Version” of ConQuesT 54 in my next post.


I took nearly all of the photos used in this post while at ConQuesT 54 between June 2-4, 2023. All identifiable persons in the photos gave their permission to be photographed (permission also specifically granted by mother of the girl in the princess outfit). The ConQuesT 54 masthead image is courtesy of the ConQuesT 54 website. One of the “crowd” (?) shots was taken by Pascal Gephardt. One of the hotel photos was taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt. The tablecloth design in the photo of the Weird Sisters Publishing dealers room display is “Nebula 2” ©2021 by Chaz Kemp.

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