Discon 1 Guide: Accessory Organizations

[This is Chapter 7 from George Scithers' Con-Committee Chairman's Guide, the story of Discon I, the 1963 Worldcon. Retyped in 2001 by Tim Illingworth, from a copy of the original 1965 publication.]
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VII. ACCESSORY ORGANIZATIONS

7.01 The first thing you, as a potential con committee member, must realize when considering the various Worthy Organizations and Causes in fandom is that the responsibility of a con committee is to put on a con; all other Worthy Causes get taken care of on an "if there's extra time and money" basis, or not at all. It is well to remember that the World Science Fiction Society is the closest thing there is to a country-wide science fiction (and fantasy) organization. The Society, together with the convention committee which does the actual running of the con, is the senior organization in the field, and I suspect that a good part of its success is because the Society has such limited objectives: to have a convention, to award Hugos, and to select a site for the next year's convention. The Society membership is not limited to "fans"; a substantial part of the membership consists of readers and writers of science fiction.

7.02 Now, the N3F (the National Fantasy Fan Federation) is an old and well-known fan organization. In its more enthusiastic moments, it has tried to speak for "all fandom". However, even if it had succeeded, the N3F doesn't and can't represent the writers and the non-fan readers of science fiction.

Through the years, the N3F and the successive con committees have reached sort of a tacit agreement about their relationship. The N3F, for its part, provides the supplies and the management (including supervision) of a hospitality room — usually a small suite or a small meeting room. This room provides coffee and cookies and the like for con members, particularly the younger ones, who have time on their hands during the con, especially late in the evening while the older folk are off at more or less private parties.

The con committee's contribution has varied from convention to convention. While sometimes the con committee has done nothing but accept the services provided by the N3F (for the hospitality room does provide the committee a service by keeping the younger, newer con attendees out of trouble), the more usual arrangement is for the con committee to provide the room space. There are several ways this can be done. One, used by the Discon, is for the committee to assign to the N3F one of the complimentary rooms provided by the hotel. Another method, used by Chicon III, is for the committee to let the N3F engage a room on their own hook and pay for it, as well as for the food used, and then donate to the N3F a sum of money equal to the whole expenditure. Some con committees have also given the N3F enough money to reimburse the Federation even for the cost of the food & drink given out in the hospitality room.

The principal difficulty with the first method, giving the N3F a room outright, is that arranging for the room is extra work for the con committee; we had to spend several hours untangling the general confusion until the N3F was finally settled into a room, and then we almost had to pay for an extra room they moved into by mistake. In retrospect, it would have been better for us to have asked the N3F to reserve a room on their own, with no other commitment but that we'd give them a donation equal to the cost of the room, if we found we could afford it. (In our case, we could have.)

Although the N3F room does the con a service, it provides a few potential headaches too. If the N3F-provided hostesses have a firm hand and a no-nonsense attitude, there's no problem. However, it is possible for the room to become an overnight sleeping place for fans too cheap to hire a room of their own, and it is possible for the room to become the scene of a heavy drinking party. Neither of these is the Hospitality Room designed to be, and if either of these possibilities develops, the con committee will have to step in, ready to eject sleepers, confiscate drinks, or even — if things get incredibly out of hand — close down the room. In the past, the N3F hostesses have always been able to keep things under control, though sometimes just barely.

As a rule, the N3F will seek as much help with the Hospitality Room as they can get from the committee, in the form of food-buying, room-supervising, and the like. And, as a rule, each con committee will figure out (on the basis of their own individual situation), just what help they can provide in the way of help, and provide that much. To me, the most important point is that the N3F, not the con committee, is responsible for providing hostesses to keep the room under reasonable control. Emergency help is another matter; the knowledge that the con committee are ready to help the hostesses if things start coming apart at the seams is at least a moral assist.

In the case of the N3F and the Discon, the emergency help that was called for was given by the N3F to the con committee [Described in the Appendix.] In a sticky situation, the con committee never had a moment's worry over the matter; everything was handled neatly by the N3Fers.

Although the N3F is subject to internal feuds, a strong defensive reaction to intentional and unmeant criticism, and a tendency to charge off in several different directions at once, it is a well-established and stable organization. It has been in existence since 1941; it has a big enough treasury and enough expertise to carry out what it sets out to do, within reason. The relationship between the con committees and the N3F, therefore, has been one of mutual assistance rather than dependence. A hard-pressed con committee can call on, and get, help from the N3F; a particularly strong con committee can offer substantial assistance to the N3F during the con.

7.03 TAFF (the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund … what, you knew?) and other funds like it are another matter entirely. These funds supply an interesting visitor from Europe from time to time — which visitor, let's face it, is interesting primarily to fanzine fans. The convention, on the other hand, is usually asked for a substantial donation to the fund. In addition, some (but not all) conventions visited by TAFF representatives have provided the hotel room at the convention at con expense.

It is my feeling, first, that the convention should commit itself to provide such funds with nothing at all until the convention books have been pretty well settled, and, second, that the donation should be only a token one. There is general agreement in the Discon Committee on the first point; it is foolish for a con committee to give away money until they are sure they have it. There is substantial disagreement on the second point. I feel that TAFF is of interest only to the fanzine-type fans at the convention, and that they should be the support, not the convention. If the fans are not interested enough to support TAFF directly, they should not find themselves supporting it indirectly. On the other hand, Dick Eney feels that there isn't as much of a Great Gulf Fixed between fanzine fans, convention fans, readers, and pros as some people would make out; that conventions are an appropriate time, if any time is, to emphasize fans' common interest and fandom's international character; and that if convention committees are unable to figure out how people like Ethel Lindsay, Wally Weber, Art Thomson, or Terry Carr — to go no further into the past - could make the convention more enjoyable, they simply aren't being imaginative enough.

7.04 Project Art Show, on the other hand, is an attraction, and benefits all con members in immediately obvious ways. If the convention could insure its continued existence merely by donating money, it would certainly be worth it. However, the amateur art show, for its continued successful existence, needs manpower more than it needs money.

This is the one thing that hardly any con committee can afford to provide. The reason, as we've hinted earlier, is that running a successful convention — that is, the main events: the ball, the banquet, the program itself, and the necessary preparations like awards, auction material, and program books — will take about all the willing-and-responsible manpower that is available in one city. The art show, therefore, must depend on out-of-town help for everything except having a local fan receive artwork mailed in advance. Furthermore, Project Art Show by its very nature needs a continuing organization to keep it going effectively, and this a con committee, by nature, is not. All in all, then, the committee can best help this valuable adjunct to the convention by providing — at committee expense, if the hotel isn't being generous — a good display room for the art work. (At Discon, the room was 40' x 50', though we didn't fill it to the brim.) Beyond that, plus a financial shot in the arm if needed, and plenty of publicity in the progress reports and the program book, there just isn't that much a convention committee can do to help.

7.05 One thing the convention committee will have to watch out for with the accessory activities, and that is fund raising. What with the auction, which is run for the benefit of the convention treasury, and the various new and used book sellers, the convention attendee faces a lot of demands for his money. Too much of this thing will mar the convention. An unfortunate example of this was the Auction Bloch — a nice novelty idea, and a good money-maker for TAFF when it first started - but an idea which outlived its interest quickly, until it became a time-taking drag before Chicon III finally killed it.

As a matter of principle, the convention committee should never stand in the way of a general feeling among fans that something or other should be allowed to die for lack of interest.

7.06 From time to time, someone will come up with a good-looking idea of one sort or another for some new accessory activity of the convention. Convention committees must watch these with extreme care, not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of the convention committees which will follow. A factor which many convention-goers haven't fully appreciated is that the convention committee is not a continuing body. One convention cannot — must not — commit the next convention to something it may not want to get involved with. For example, take Harriet Kolchak's Neo Fund, a scheme for helping out young fans who find themselves without sufficient funds at a convention. Now, the problem of the unfunded fan is one that turns up from time to time. And convention committees have used their own judgment on who to give a few dollars to and who to send to the nearest Travelers' Aid. (Of course, someone who makes a career of "losing his wallet" at conventions will be lots more likely to be sent to Travelers' Aid.) At first glance, an organization to take care of such problems might look like a Good Thing for convention committees. However, if such an organization did get started with convention committee backing, and then later, for one reason or another, suddenly failed, the next convention committee would find itself stuck with the implied obligation to take care of the fundless ones. Therefore, the Discon committee declined the request of the Neo Fund for program time to announce its aims, but instead insisted that the Neo Fund operate as a sort of accessory to the N3F room (Harriet Kolchak was one of the N3F hostesses at Discon), provided the N3F had no objection.

7.07 In the same way, convention committees must be wary about getting involved with seers of flying saucers, and like fauna. It isn't that belief in airborne crockery is objectionable per se, but that flying saucer fans enormously outnumber the science fiction readers, authors, and fans who now form the bulk of Worldcon membership, and it would be awfully easy for us to get swamped. However, groups of reasonable size, who are closely allied with science fiction and fantasy, have long had meetings within the framework of a Worldcon — usually in the mornings, when all sensible other folk are still recovering from the parties of the night before. These organizations range in size from the Burroughs Bibliophiles through the Hyborian Legion, FAPA, SAPS, and the Dorcas Bagby Society on down (apt direction!) to The Cult. The only real problem with these groups is getting them to state their need for a meeting room well in advance of the con, so announcement can be made in the program book and a room can be reserved for them at the appropriate time.

7.08 Parties? Now's the time to lay one misconception to rest. The truth of the matter is that parties at science fiction conventions are definitely not as noisy as the parties at other types of conventions… nearly, but definitely not quite. You must understand that the management of a hotel that has much convention business expects that they will have to quiet down a dozen or so parties during the course of a convention weekend. If things get too much out of hand, the con committee may be asked to help with an extremely noisy affair or two, but this degree of trouble is very rare. The only festivities that make for really significant trouble is the costume ball. At the SoLACon, one of the contestants, garbed as a priest of an arcane religion and wearing sackcloth, ashes, and a smoke pot, went out into Pershing Square after the ball and preached. When the crowd grew large, the fan returned to the hotel, followed by a good part of his new congregation. Then the people in the hotel, still in costume, looked out of the windows to see what was going on. When the motorists in the streets below stopped to goggle, the police dropped in to ask — in a nice way — for the con to please stop whatever it was that they were doing. (The hotel detective at this point was laughing so hard he wasn't any help to anybody. Again, at Chicon III, a group of Catholic Youth in the hotel for a convention off their own wandered into the costume ball in such numbers that the room was too crowded for a proper costume parade. The Discon was strongly advised by the hotel management to have a uniformed guard, particularly since there was another convention at the hotel at the same time. We are very glad we did. The Other Convention turned out to be a high school fraternity…

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