Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memo to Worldcon Artists

If you're an artist who participated in this year's World Science Fiction Convention Art Show, or plan to participate in a future Worldcon Art Show, then the following is for you.

The good news is that this year's Worldcon in Montreal is supposedly getting ready to pay its artists their Art Show revenues. The bad news is these checks were, by Worldcon's own rules, due to the artists within 60 days of the show. 60 days to pay a check is a lenient turnaround by any reasonable measure and by that standard, the artists should have been paid by mid-October. End of story. It's now mid-November and this is still not the case.

American artists were in fact mailed checks well after the 60-day period. However, those checks were drafted with questionable routing number information that were subsequently denied by many American financial institutions. A letter accompanied those checks stating that the checks provided a legitimate US routing number, when in fact, they didn't. They were effectively foreign checks that would necessitate gross collections fees and punitive processing delays of up to eight additional weeks. Not acceptable. When this was communicated to the con, its response was "the checks are fine; it must be your bank."

Wrong answer, Worldcon.

There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Worldcon's part. Don't get that idea. However, there's plenty of evidence of miscommunication, defensiveness, finger-pointing, and he-said, she-said. I had hoped that the matter would resolve itself in a reasonable amount of time, and therefore, I originally refrained from making the matter public, out of respect to the con and its volunteers.

Here's why I decided to post this -- I'm a fan of Worldcon. As a whole, I very much like the people that run them. I want to see Worldcon live long and prosper. However, I'm first and foremost a working pro illustrator, and sf/fantasy art is my business. I don't like being screwed. I don't like being patronized, and I don't like my fellow artists being shafted. If I stay quiet about this, then I'm in effect endorsing that it's OK for this kind of behavior to occur again. I can't do that. Worldcon is better than this.

Artists -- should we continue to participate in Worldcon Art Shows? Good question. Many have already migrated to other shows that attract larger audiences, and better marketing than Worldcon affords its artists. That was certainly evident at this year's Worldcon when you looked at the artist roster. And for something like this to occur, it doesn't help future Worldcons. I chose to participate in this year's Worldcon Art Show, but I wouldn't if I knew it would treat its artists' payments this poorly. Will I participate in future ones? I'd like to hope for the best, and hope that future shows will see this, and take measures to not repeat the same.

I'm disappointed that this happened. I hate that it did. Let's hope for better days ahead, Worldcon.

18 Comments:

Blogger JourneyPlanet said...

This was a problem at the last Canadian WorldCon as well, as I understand it. This is a bad thing and the worst part is that some WorldCons get it right, and others don't and there's no sort of continuity to make sure that the mistakes of one WorldCon are truly learned.
Chris

11:50 AM  
Blogger Suzdal said...

My entire interaction with the Anticipation Art Show was lacking. Communications were practically nil and attempting to go through other channels within the con also failed to get a response.

OTOH, as mentioned above-each Worldcon is it's own animal, which makes it hard to make any sweeping statements.

I do wonder sometimes if the Art Show is considered the poor relation. The Masquerade and Hugo Awards are flashy, the Dealer's Room brings the cash and Programming is where the guests are.

I hear ASFA is on the move, perhaps this is something they can set their sights on?

12:32 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

So we'll have plenty to talk about in Austin, then. -sigh-

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a hard working member of the Anticipation Staff for many months before the Con. (not the Art Show, I helped in the planning and execution of another area).
Anticipation was one of the most poorly run Conventions I have ever seen - the Chairs were completely insensitive to any input from anyone except their "inner circle", who were, quite bluntly, a bunch of incompetents.
The situation would all be forgivable except, as you point out, this was "part 2", part 1 being the disastrous Torcon which was even worse.
The turnout for the Anticipation Art Show and Dealer Room was atrocious. Yes, blame it on Canadian Customs, but the organizers knew, or should have know, this all along. It would not have been very hard to enlist the Montreal area art community (hey, a short walk from the convention center revealed *tons* of galleries!)
I am embarrased to tell people I was part of the Anticipation staff, as it was the worst planned and executed Con ever, Torcon excluded.
Please don't hold the incompetence of the Anticipation Committee against all future Worldcons. I, for one, have decided I will *never* attend another Canadian SF convention - but I will continue to attend Worldcon as long as it's not in Canada!

2:50 PM  
Blogger René said...

@John: I'm not going to pretend we weren't late getting the cheques out, but as far as cashing the cheque is concerned, I'm afraid it _is_your bank. We sent out cheques from that very same account for the past four years to plenty of other US folks and they had no problems cashing our cheques. We did decide to open a temporary bank account in the US to offset that (new) problem and to help our members avoid the outrageous bank fees US financial institutions charge for cheques drawn in US funds from a Canadian bank.

@anonymous: can you please tell me (and the world) who you are?

I will say that even if we had enlisted the help of a local gallery (assuming we could find a willing one with the expertise to import artwork, not all galleries do) it probably would not have helped that much. As it is, we enlisted the help of a Canadian who is used to importing goods and artwork and that still did not seem to reassure many artists.

3:13 PM  
OpenID netmouse said...

The Renovation chair has told me she would like to see us do an art night to go with the Chesleys. I might be helping out with that and welcome ideas. I don't believe the art show should be "a poor relation', though I have worked with people who do. I've repeatedly had to fight for the art show's continuation at ConFusion, but I think it's important, so I do. Any we also have strong art programming at ConFusion, and should at Worldcon.

Some worldcons have had outstanding art shows, and that is what I want to see. I don't think we can make the con into as big a money making forum as some other venues - this just isn't that audience - but we can at least communicate well and treat our artists well.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Kevin Standlee said...

@anonymous:

it was the worst planned and executed Con ever....

You obviously haven't been to very many conventions, then.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin Standlee said...

I look forward to Reno putting more emphasis on the Art Show. I will echo Rene's comment on my LiveJournal calling on US Worldcons to do a better job of supporting non-US artists, who face just as many (if not more) challenges exhibiting at American shows as American artists do at Canadian, British, Australian, etc. shows.

3:53 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Rene, I like you a lot and you're a swell guy. Allow me to put this gently.

You're 100% fucking wrong to claim that it's my bank that is the problem. I look forward to seeing you at SmofCon so that you can try saying that again to my face.

This defensiveness you and some of your Anticipation associates have expressed toward this problem is EXACTLY why I felt the need to post what I did. Your response here only validates why I needed to speak up. You seem to live in some fantasy land that says that if yourself, Bruce Farr or any other Worldcon associate types a letter saying this is a legitimate check that can be cashed in any US financial institution, then the bank should just roll over and hand over the cash. It doesn't work that way. I'm sorry to shatter your fragile fantasy. That's not real life.

Here are the facts:

1. I have two different financial institutions with which I bank.

2. I spent five hours total with both banks trying to effort your check through. I talked to eight different employees, and two different managers. All of them at BOTH banks said that your check could be cashed, but only with punitive collection fees and six-to-eight week collection delays. Why? Because both institutions (again, BOTH BANKS) said that the routing number was not a standard US routing number and therefore could not be handled like a standard transaction. That's not acceptable because that's not what US artists agreed to. And you know it -- so stop acting like "well, it's your problem, John." What's despicable about your attitude is that if there's a problem for even ONE artist or ONE vendor, your response should be "hey, let's fix it" but instead your response is to point the finger at me. WRONG ANSWER.

3. Rene -- your treasurer and your art show director have already admitted that there are many artists throughout the US in this same boat. So to claim that it's MY bank means you're either a) a master fantasist; b) disingenuous; c) a liar or d) both of the above. So you're basically saying, "hey, John Picacio -- it's your problem that you don't bank with the right bank that cashes our checks." For your own sake, don't try that line again. It only makes you look like an idiot. I'm not doubting your claim that some banks may have cashed these checks with no problem, but that doesn't change the fact that many artists CAN'T cash your checks. And this "hey, it's not our problem" deflection of blame is the stuff of children. Comprende?

4. There is one proper response in this situation: don't blame the artists trying to cash your checks, but instead say "I'm sorry. We've made some very poor judgements here, and we're sorry for the inconvenience. Let us help you get paid as quickly as possible here and move on from this embarrassing situation." THAT'S THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE. Don't embarrass yourself with further excuse, accusation and explanation.

5. For all future Worldcons -- all I'm asking is that you not only learn from this situation, but should you find yourself in the same -- don't try to deflect the blame onto the people cashing your checks. It only makes you look like an idiot. Worldcon is better than that. At least I hope so.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Standlee said...

John:

I don't speak for Rene, but from what he wrote, and without any additional information, it seems to me that "you" in what he wrote did not mean "you [specifically], John Picacio, and no other person in the world," but "you [indefinite plural]." English really doesn't have enough second-person pronouns.

From everything I've read, this whole business with the checks seems to have taken as a surprise, and may even have been caused by a change in the way US banks started handling checks, given that as far Anticipation knew, checks drawn in US funds on their bank had been going through without the delays and collection fees in question. Heck, I seem to remember an expense-reimbursement check for a minor item a couple years ago going through without a hiccup.

But it's not good, and should have been resolved much sooner than it was. And US Worldcons need to work harder as well to not make it just as difficult for non-US artists to display here. I remember going through a few financial contortions with Aussiecon 3 to try and get money from the USA to Australia without having to pay massive conversion fees.

5:48 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Kevin --

I went ahead and glanced at your LiveJournal post. I'm not interested in getting into a debate about Dragon*Con and Worldcon. That has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

I saw this comment in your reply to Rene Walling: "I agree completely, including on the other points about US banks acting as if they are the only country in the world and that everyone else is on another planet."

I'm gonna give you the benefit of doubt and hope that you're not trying to attribute that sentiment to me as well. Otherwise, what's your point? Again, this comment has nothing to do with resolution or making sure the same failures don't repeat themselves again -- and when I say "failures", I'm talking about sending out checks with dodgy routing number information as well as not offering communication to the artists about the exorbitant delays in processing as well as blaming the artists cashing the checks instead of solving problems in an expedient manner.

5:49 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Kevin --

We cross-posted. I appreciate your response above. Thanks very much. Yes, I can see some logic there. Let me that CLEARLY you were NOT attributing that USA-centric sentiment to me. That seems obvious now. :)

Also -- I can get with your explanation, but next time I would ask that this info should be shared with the artists in reasonable time, and I think everything would be cool. A healthy dose of communication from the con and treasury to the artists would've gone a LONG way to defusing this. Simple as that.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Kevin Standlee said...

I'm gonna give you the benefit of doubt and hope that you're not trying to attribute that sentiment to me as well.

You're right. (I see the crossed replies as well.)

...as well as not offering communication to the artists about the exorbitant delays in processing as well as blaming the artists cashing the checks instead of solving problems in an expedient manner.

You're quite right about the lack of communication. This is something that nearly every convention fails to do. We -- and I mean almost all fannish conventions in my experience -- are really bad at it, and we need to improve significantly. How to get people to do so, though, is something I don't know how to do. It takes a high level of commitment and for most people it's more than they want to do. I know that it's been like pulling teeth in most organizations with which I've been involved to get that commitment to commuications, as so many people seem to treat information as a zero-sum commodity.

It's particularly bad when the communication needs to be, in essence, "We screwed up, and we're sorry, and we're going to fix it if we can."

(I'm reminded of one of the feedback sessions at ConFrancisco in 1993 when we were taken to task by how badly we botched up con registration. Those of us on the head table said, more or less, "You're right. We blew it badly, and we're sorry we inconvenienced everyone. We really hope that our successors are paying attention to how annoying we were and will not repeat our mistakes." Astonishingly, almost everyone since then actually took the lesson to heart, and that's why, at most Worldcons, you shouldn't expect a significant wait at Registration. But anyway, what I remember from the time was the open-mouthed astonishment from the audience members, who expected us to come up with some complicated song-and-dance about why it wasn't really our fault, and were left with little more to say after we apologized for the mistake and said that we should have done it better.)

Also -- I can get with your explanation, but next time I would ask that this info should be shared with the artists in reasonable time, and I think everything would be cool. A healthy dose of communication from the con and treasury to the artists would've gone a LONG way to defusing this. Simple as that.

Absolutely right. I was unaware of the magnitude of the problem myself until recently. I admit to primarily "tending my own garden" within Anticipation's managment structure, concentrating on things like getting the WSFS rules updated.

6:03 PM  
Blogger René said...

John: I did not mean to say "It's your problem John".

I understand you're angry, but will ask you to be patient and read on:

Try to see it from our point of view: we opened a US account in late 2004 with the Bank of Montreal (BoM). This is a pretty standard account and tons of people in Canada have them (I've had my personal US account for over 20 years with no one having a problem cashing my personal cheques in all that time).

Now we've happily used this account throughout the bidding process and in the two years preceding Anticipation, writing cheques to conventions for ads they ran in their programme books, reimbursing people for expenses etc... I don't know off the top of my head how many cheques we wrote drawn from that account, but it's certainly a few hundred.

So as far as we're concerned, based on several years of doing business this way, everything is swell. Don't ask me what happened with some US banks in the last few months that changed that, I don't know. But don't ask me to believe that we are entirely the ones to blame for this. I don't know why they have so much trouble with a cheque from a Canadian bank, but there it is. Once we found out about it, we started to take steps to solve the problem. Specifically, open up an account with a US bank, and transfer funds to it and then mail new cheques, meanwhile tracking which BoM cheques got cashed since some people managed to do it with no problems we heard of. But all this takes time and meant a few more weeks were added to the process.

Now I ask you, can you blame us for trusting things would be fine with the cheques we had when they've been working fine for years?

As for the hours lost dealing with your bank, I'm truly sorry, there is no worse thief that the one who casues you to lose time for you can never regain it, and five hours -- ouch! As you already knew, we have taken action, but action always takes a bit of time.


As for which banks are worse, I can give you rants about either US or Canadian banks over a beer a Smofcon (or two, those rants are pretty long) :)

9:13 PM  
Blogger Politikat said...

@ René

We sent out cheques from that very same account for the past four years to plenty of other US folks and they had no problems cashing our cheques.

I'm sorry, but that's BS. Lunacon had a problem with the check Anticipation used to pay for an ad in 2008. Our bank wanted to charge us 35% to cash the check.

Shirt told Bruce about the problem at Denvention (if not before that), and told you personally about the problem at Albacon in 2008. So it should not have been a big surprise that others had the same problem. The fact that you sent letters with the checks makes me think that you knew a potential problem existed.

9:58 PM  
Blogger René said...

Now that you mention it, I do remember one Lunacon having problems with a cheque. Does that invalidate all the others successful transactions? I'd say no.

Overall, nothing in our experience told us this would be an issue the way it is.

I stand by my opinion of US banks

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous because I'm writing for others said...

With regard: My entire interaction with the Anticipation Art Show was lacking. Communications were practically nil . . .

There is absolutely no doubt that communication prior to the Convention, regarding Art Show issues (artists, direction, etc.) was lacking severely. I am in a position to know this absolutely. It was inexcusable, and I am grateful I am not the one who was responsible.

I have nothing to do with the payment of artists, and cannot comment on that part of the issue.

At this point, I'm trying to find out more about another issue. Is there anyone reading this who has NOT been refunded volunteer money, or who has been incorrectly refunded.

This matter has recently come to light, and given that generous amounts of cash have been passed on to other Worldcons, some people have been left wondering where a refund which should have been received has disappeared to.

This is not an issue with form of payment (i.e. check/cheque), nor is it confined to one department, or one country. I know of people who are geographically scattered, and who have connections with at least four departments, who have either not at all received the refund, or who have been short-changed.

I'm looking for more . . . it would be interesting to know how wide-spread this problem is.

2:18 AM  
Blogger René said...

For volunteer reimbursements, I suggest you get in touch with your Department head. So far, three volunteers have done so. One seems to have been an oversight on our part, we did not have the correct address for the second one, and the third is currently being reviewed.

10:25 AM  

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