Back in January I braved the snowy Boston weather to attend one of my favorite conventions: Arisia. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Arisia, and the convention has definitely changed with the times. Starting strictly as a sci-fi convention in 1989, Arisia initially boasted an attendance of about 850 fans. Presently, Arisia boasts thousands of attendees interested in sci-fi, anime, comics, and so much more. Held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, Arisia ran from January 18th until January 21st this year.
While there is so much I loved about Arisia this year, there is also a lot that needs to be addressed for the 2020 convention. Below is my list of pros, cons, and a final verdict on attending Arisia.
One thing Arisia handles better than any convention I’ve ever attended is representation and inclusion. From the moment you pick up your badge until the moment you leave the con, you are validated for who you are. Arisia supplies gender pronoun stickers to attach to your convention badge, as well as non-gendered bathrooms. This ensures that guests feel welcomed and unafraid to express who they are.
This also is reflected in the type of panels Arisia greenlights. There are dozens of panels which center around women, people of color, and other minority groups. The popular (and wrong) opinion that sci-fi and geeky things are for boys only does not fly at Arisia.
Arisia being such a safe and inclusive space means that certain common occurrences at cons were restricted. One noticeable one was where photo-ops could occur. Arisia designated several spaces to be photo free. This was done to avoid people being photographed without their consent, and to give fans looking for a break from the con a place to go.
While this is a great idea, I didn’t see any signs indicating whether a space was photo-op free or not. These spaces were indicated in the program guide, but it’s cumbersome to try to determine on the fly if you can or can’t take someone’s photo. Having the spaces clearly labelled will easily clear this up for Arisia 2020.
Another pain point for a lot of attendees was the sudden change in venues. From 2011 to 2018 Arisia was held at the Westin Boston Waterfront. Due to the hotel workers strike that happened this year, Arisia suddenly changed venues to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. This venue change had a huge impact on attendees who had already booked their stay at the Westin, or at a hotel near the Westin.
For those unfamiliar with Boston, these hotels are about 2 miles away from each other and are on completely different MBTA lines. This upheaval meant attendees had to scramble to change hotels. Those that were unable to change in time were stuck navigating the T or trying to find parking in the heart of Boston.
I commend the Arisia staff for doing their best to keep attendees in the loop. There’s an entire section on their website dedicated to the move. Not only that, but they were able to give the convention a decent layout in a short amount of time. Despite that, it might be better to have a contingency plan enacted a little sooner than the month before the convention.
Despite the sudden change in venue, Arisia 2019 was a blast! The panels were diverse and inclusive, catering to people from all walks of life. The staff and volunteers were helpful and accommodating. The venue was nice and allowed for a near seamless flow from panel room to panel room. If photography areas could be clearly labeled for next year I will be a happy camper!
Fans looking to attend Arisia 2020 can find more information about the convention here.