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November 02, 2003

On Reimagining Worldcon Exhibits

From Laurie Mann
Exhibits Director, N4

We want to improve Exhibits organization, particularly
the fannish exhibits. Since we don't have much money
for displays, we tend to rely upon the cheap, tried and
true display methods such as arranging tables and
art show hangings in rectangles by subject. There
hasn't been a major change to the Exhibit Hall since
Exhibits first started about 30 years ago (with the
exception of the Concourse back in 1989, and the
one-shot golf course in 1992). For next year,
we want to dramatically improve the overall layout
and organization of the Exhibit Hall.

Worldcon exhibits have generally consisted of
little islands of topic areas (the Worldcon history area,
the fanzine area, the fan history area). We want
to reorganize exhibits in a different fashion.
Reorganizing them by time is one possibility. Picture,
if you will, the 1950s exhibit. This exhibit would include:

  • timeline with highlights of the '50s
  • photos/personalities from the '50s
  • Hugo info from the '50s
  • Worldcon, convention info/materials from the '50s
  • fanzines from the '50s
  • SF book/movie/TV info from the '50s
  • a conversation nook
  • a reference area - find out more

I want to stress that this organization by decade is
a preliminary idea. We need to spend some time
over the next few weeks discussing the hows and
whats of Exhibit reorganization. We don't want
to split things up arbitrarily, but we do want
to provide a better context for the material.
I suppose with my interest in history,
organizing material chronologically
makes the most sense to me, but I'm definitely
open to suggestions. As with Program,
we believe Exhibits can encourage conversation
among fans, both old and new.

Since we intend to reorganize existing materials,
we need to have a better idea of what's available
for display in the "warehouse" of fannish materials.
We will start to inventory and label materials currently in
storage in Massachusetts. We're going to develop
an online inventory of materials. Over the winter
and spring, we're going to use our inventory
database to determine which materials go into
each decade exhibit.

The idea is to focus on interesting material, label it
well so that both fans and non-fans alike understand
why the material is important to our field.

We also want to present the exhibits in a more appealing
way. To help us do that, we'll have some "proto-professional"
help from students at the New England School of Design
( We'll go to
Worldcon with a more detailed exihibits layout than Worldcons
have had in the past. We believe this reorganization plan
has enormous potential to help make Exhibits more interesting.
Despite the extra work it will undoubtably require,
we're going to wind up with a more
engaging set of exhibits for Noreascon 4.

From Lauwrence C. Smith
Co-Manager of Dealers Room, N4

This is an excellent idea and way overdue.
Exhibits has been an orphan step-child for years--
it's not a glamor position and requires too much real
work to be a popular choice. As Exhibits Div Mgr
for ConJose, this was the hardest position I had
to fill; and the Dept Mgr is critical.

Doing it by decades is intelligent--it's how many of us
relate to our entry/position in the fannish timeline.

> The idea is to focus on interesting material, label it
> well so that both fans and non-fans alike understand
> why the material is important to our field.

And this point goes to the heart of the biggest current problem
I see in fandom--no replacements. Fandom is aging about
as fast as I am; when I got started in the mid 1960s,
there was a new fannish generation about every
three years and now I doubt if we are even getting
one-for-one replacements. Yes, there are lots more
compelling competing alternatives for proto-fan's
time and money which didn't exist when I was 20,
but we should still be able
to make organized fandom appealing.

From Patrick Molloy
Manager of NASA Exhibits and
Site Selection

To attempt to tie together the two areas I'm working... ;-)
If the exhibits are arranged chronologically, perhaps they
could lead the viewer through to the "future of fandom"
area, which would include the tables for the 2005 & 2006
Worldcons, the 2007 site selection area, and the future
worldcon bidders tables.

from Mike Nelson
50 Years of Hugo Exhibit

> I suppose with my interest in history, organizing material
> chronologically makes the most sense to me, but I'm
> definitely open to suggestions.

How many decades? 1930s to 1990s plus the 21st Century?

[[from Laurie: probably]]

If we organize things by decades, I'm tempted to suggest
that we include some real world events/milestones to help
in orienting people to the different time periods. Some
of these youngsters seem to picture the first moon landing
as science fiction. ;-)

By fannish Ages or Epoch?

The Reign of the Spirit Master
The Age of the Mimeograph
The Dawn of Xerography
The Digital Frontier

from Randy Smith
Exhibits Staff

First of all, I agree with Laurie that a re-organization
of the exhibits area is long overdue. I tend to go through
the exhibits pretty quickly, mostly because "I've seen all
that stuff before." Rearranging the material chronologically
will add interest for us "old-timers" (am I really in that
category now?)

[[from Laurie - you've been an assistant division director -
if you weren't an "old-timer" before, you've surely aged
into the position now! ;->]]

Laurie's idea reminds me a bit of Bucky when we did
the Fannish Desks exhibit, also organized by decade.
This would be much more comprehensive than that was,
and, I would think, should allow for more interesting
conversations by fans standing amidst the material.
Having conversation areas in each section is essential, IMHO.

Decade areas would have to include the '30s through
the '00s, at least. I could also see including a section for the
1920s, even though fandom in that decade was nothing like
it has been since, and it did not consider itself as a
larger organization. Certainly, it had not gained the status
of being a subculture that it had attained by the late 1930s.
Nevertheless, there were people doing things that today we
would classify as fanac, even if they themselves would
not have thought of it that way.

I really like the idea of including a Fandom In The 2010s section.

Certain issues will require difficult decisions:

How do we place fans into categories by decades when many
have fannish careers that span several?

Likewise, while some aspects of fannish culture come and
go (When was the last time you "liberated the pool?"),
others span several decades. Do we put an exhibit about
a particular fannish practice in the decade it began or
the decade when it was the most popular?

There is some value to categorizing displays by category
rather than time. Are there some exhibits we might want
to keep together, despite the fact that they span significant
lengths of time?

Would it be possible to include computer terminals with
fanhistory information on them so that people can learn
more while being in the midst of the exhibit?

[[from Laurie: The Fanhistory Exhibit has at least 2
laptops. And, if everything works out, we may wind up
with a wireless access area in Hall C (depending on
costs and the like).]]

On another note: I like the idea of including real-world
events in the exhibit as points of orientation. This can
work well if it is a well-planned exhibit. My only problem
with it is that it reminds me a bit of the Noreascon 3
board that had clippings of current events "outside the
convention" so that we could follow the news of the
"real world." As I recall, most of the clippings
were local news write-ups of the con or daily updates
of the then-ongoing trials of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jimmy
Bakker. Granted, we will have the perspective of time
to look at past decades to decide what was really
important, but we still need to think carefully about it.

> Mike Nelson wrote:
> By fannish Ages or Epoch?
> The Reign of the Spirit Master
> The Age of the Mimeograph
> The Dawn of Xerography
> The Digital Frontier

While I like this idea a lot and it does make more
sense than organization strictly by decades, this particular
time-division seems to put just a bit too much emphasis
in fanzines.

What are some similar divisions by epoch that would be
more general in nature?

From Chaz Baden
Fan Photo Gallery Exhibit

Almost every single photo in the Fan Gallery is less than
7 years old... If we're agreed that trying to split up a
photo gallery exhibit into decades is a bit problematical,
then here's an idea I had for the Fan Gallery.

Suppose we made the exhibit something you walked
through, and perhaps lingered in? Instead of something
you walk around. Suppose we had more art show hangings,
we set them up facing inward instead of outward, and we
had a bench for people to linger on?

[[From Laurie: Yep, that's definitely the idea. In fact, Mike
Nelson's initial 50 Years of Hugo design was very much
in this spirit.]]

I've made a diagram of how the Fan Gallery was laid out
at Torcon 3, and a diagram of an idea for displaying the
same number of photos at Noreascon.

Torcon Layout

Fan Gallery at Torcon 3

A Proposed N4 Layout

A Proposed N4 Layout

[[from Laurie: Yes!]]

At Torcon, the "footprint" of the exhibit was approximately
24 ft by 8 ft. The idea I've proposed above would use more
artshow fixtures, and would be approximately 32 ft by 18 ft.
(More space would be handy, natch; we're still adding photos
to the exhibit.)

[[from Laurie: Though if you had photos on both the inside and
outside, you could add more photos and still have a conversation
area. Note that most exhibits will probably wind up with less
space, because Hall C is smaller than many recent Worldcon
Exhibit Halls. And some exhibits/fan tables will probably wind
up in hallways.]]

Any chance of getting a big piece of carpet for the exhibit
to rest on, to help visually separate it from the aisles and
the rest of the hall?

(If we did that for all the exhibits, we could color code the

[[from Laurie: An interesting idea. Please put carpeting in
your "budget" if you want it and maybe it's something we
can add to contingency.]]

I'm thinking that the outside walls would have something
visually interesting hung on them - like patterned fabric,
or some sort of mural or other large art, or something.

One idea I had was to put a big sheet of butcher paper
on a table in the middle of the exhibit with a box of
crayons, and then at the end of the day hang the sheet
on the outside and put a fresh sheet down. But that
doesn't really relate to the Fan Gallery concept, so it's just a
free-floating idea that might fit somewhere else in the hall...

[[from Laurie: Ahh, the return of the Grafitti Board...]]

November 02, 2003 | Permalink


Even if done as a timeline, you need to make sure people can stop and re-start, e.g., have well-marked and accessible entrance and exit points.

Also, have a floor plan of the exhibit area so people can find specific things (e.g., media company exhibits). The street sign grid sort of arrangement is useful for this, even if the streets are 1, 2, 3, ..., and A, B, C, ....

Posted by: Evelyn Leeper | November 12, 2003 06:11 AM

The corridors that laurie speaks of, above, are central to making really effective use of our space. The Hynes has three lovely wide long corridors which we did not make particularly effectiove use of at N3 -- all they were used for, really, was for getting from place A to place B. But they've got gobs of space and are right where people are -- so this time we want to really integrate them into the con, and using them for exhibits and comfy seating/conversation areas is a natural.

Posted by: Mark Olson | November 12, 2003 07:22 AM

A lot of comfy seating / conversation areas would be great.

How many drinking fountains will be in the exhibit area? A lot of people at Torcon were carrying their own water but I wasn't will to pay what the convention center was selling it for? If not enough drinking fountains, could you get bottled water donated?

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | November 16, 2003 07:54 PM

There should also be seating outside the panel meeting rooms. People like to sit down and plan the next panel they plan to attend.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | November 26, 2003 05:47 AM

Instead of using butcher paper, why not use Post-Its? At the new Constitution Center (in Philly), Post-Its and small pencils were available for people to post their comments.

Posted by: sue ellen | November 27, 2003 10:41 AM

To: David J Van Deusen:
Re: Seating near program rooms

I know there's a bunch of benches outside the
main third floor Program rooms (in the Boylston Hallway) in the Hynes Convention Center.

The Philly Convention Center had little conversation nooks just outside of the first floor rooms, and those couches were very well used during the convention.

For Noreascon IV, we will definitely have conversation areas in the Exhibit Hall. I'm also hoping to get a second floor program room near the Exhibit Hall as a "quiet" getaway/reading room/small displays area.

Posted by: Laurie Mann | November 30, 2003 06:21 PM

Chaz' suggested layout to me feels too enclosed. If one of the issues with the traditional arrangement of the fan gallery is that people don't notice the other side, I'm wondering about that being exacerbated when someone has to actually go "inside" a much more enclosed area. I'd prefer seeing something with more openess to it to let people wander in and out and have it feel more expansive/inclusive of the area surrounding it.

I agree with Mark about the corridors and incorporating them as exhibits areas, also Laurie's comment about places for people to sit around outside the program rooms.

Perhaps the exhibits in the halls could be "time unbound" sorts of things, that go across time, while having fan exhibits in the main exhibits areas be those which are time-bound.

Regarding the "Return of the Graffitti Board," I think it would be a positive contribution to the convention if there could be tables with chairs at them and art supplies on the tables -- paper, pencils--grayscale and color, pens (gel pens and maybe some art marker-types and brush pens), and perhaps oil pastels (which are a cross between oilstick and pastels, they don't make dusty messes like chalk or "soft" pastels, and they don't involve the smellier and messier aspects of oil stick, they can be used on ordinary art paper) and paper for people to do spontaneous art on (origami-friendly paper too, for that matter), at various venues around the convention. The artists' tables that some conventions have these days [and that are stock at comics conventions, and apparently anime conventions also] are nice, but they're limited to inside the art show, and not really conducive to spontaneity, or to ordinary fans participating.

[For that matter, perhaps there could be some art demos and workshops held in those areas, some scheduled, and some spontaneous.]

[The supplies I mentioned are the sort that are a whole lot less drippy and messy and dusty and smelly and such and don't need water/turpentine for thinning/cleaning and brushes to have to clean and paint to mix and fuss over and such, than tubes/bottles of acrylics/oils/watercolor paints; brushpens have the watercolor or alcohol-based paint all inside the brushpen body, pencils do need sharpeners but a cheap sharpener [$1.59 or less] and a wastebasket is all the muss and fuss involved there, gel pens are self-contained.]

One of the issues with the old Boskone Graffitti boards, was that they were all from very large rolls of paper, and while people sometimes liked individual parts of the gestalt, most people didn't want to deal with this giant roll of paper with everything from fine art drawing to crude graffitti on it, to take away, and over time, people generally seemed less inclined to really want to spend much time and effort drawing on this large vertical wall-roll of paper.

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 12, 2003 03:30 AM

Addendum -- art supplies are things which can be bought up to and during the convention, most of the arts and crafts stores in the area (Pearl on in Central Square, Cambridge, near the Red Line T station, for one] are open Sundays and most holidays, so that if it's something popular and the convention has extra money to spend at con, art supplies for fans to do art with at convention are things that convention can spend some of that last-minute arriving money on.

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 12, 2003 03:38 AM

Something I've seen that has previously worked: a 'timeline' with a request that people add their personal timelines to (i.e. what was your first worldcon?)

Have you thought about having interactive items along with exhibits (i.e. an artist jam where an exhibit of creating art on stencil is shown, or publishing a one shot on ditto)

Or what about integrating some of the items that Worldcons have into the exhibit area? i.e. the Woof and/or ApaNyu collations?

Posted by: joyce scrivner | December 19, 2003 07:29 AM

How about a slide and video/digital presentation tent or booth with all those items usually laid out in a display case (or not available for display due to size, whatever). Audio track of comments from old timers added to commentator's track. If this is too grand, a digital presentation on disc and computers means the viewer can Chapter jump.

Knowing how lazy we all are, having the display on disc in conjunction with the exhibit, one can sit and browse.

A digital presentation means copies that can be sold and help cover costs of preparation.

Posted by: Charlotte Konrad | January 6, 2004 11:14 PM

Probably the most popular exhibit at Chicon 2000 was
our re-creation of a Chicago fan living room, ca. 1985,
which doubled as the fan lounge.

I think there's a lot to be said for having the
lounge in or near the fannish exhibits, and being
clever about its design means that people who
wouldn't normally go looking for fanzines or
fan history materials stumble onto it and are
agreeably surprised and interested.

Of course, it's imperative that the lounge be staffed
by friendly and well-informed fannish types.

I should note that there are differences of opinion
here. Those who think that the fan lounge should
be some kind of private club for fanzine fans (with food)
will not agree with its placement in a prominent
public place, nor will those who think that fanzine fans
should be penned off in a ghetto with fringe fandoms.

I, however, believe it should be a place where all fans
can come to be informed about the roots of fandom, and
hang out with living fan history in the form of longtime
fans and fanzines, and therefore it should be front and
center amid the fan exhibits

Posted by: Leah Zeldes Smith | January 11, 2004 04:09 AM

Layout I leave to the experts. I'm more concerned with what goes into exhibits.
I agree that it's nice to have some exhibits dealing with older things. You have to look back, and science fiction allows for plenty of interesting material to choose from.
However, you cannot ignore the new stuff either. I would be willing to donate my very small collection of painted miniatures for an exhibit, and it shouldn't be too hard to find others who would be willling to lend you there miniatures for a display. Those of us who played Warhammer or Battletech had to paint the figures we bought, and even if we don't play anymore, we still keep the figures around.
Also, get some video game exhibits in there. For those of us in our 30's, we're old enough to remember a time before and after video games. Those in their 20's, however, grew up on video games and it's a regular part of their lives now. Science Fiction and video games are tied together in a way as the first video game ever made was a space game (no, it was not Pong. That wasn't designed until the mid-70's. The original game was made in the late 60's). Furthermore, the second most famous video game of them all was none other than Space Invaders.
I would like to offer one note on the layout of the exhibit hall as opposed to one exhibit. Check out the layout of Harvard Yard in Cambridge. You can find a map on
Granted, you don't want that many walkways, but it offers a good overview of how to connect different areas of a large area.

Posted by: Bill Todd | February 18, 2004 01:23 AM

I'm pleased to see there's a 50 Years of Hugo exhibit being planned. While researching the design of early Hugo trophies recently, I was surprised to find no on-line gallery anywhere, and little information on the early awards. I hope N4 will take the opportunity to photograph each year's trophy and put up an on-line gallery.

Posted by: Bill Burns | May 7, 2004 11:47 AM

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