Saskatoon Blitz and How Not to Run an Artist Alley

Have you ever asked yourself “How can I screw up an artist alley as much as possible?” I mean not just make an unpleasant experience, but actually run an Artist Alley in a way where you actually try to do everything wrong? Well, I think the staff at Saskatoon Blitz in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan must have, because they’ve gotten pretty close.

Well not as much as Aki Con did a few years back, but if our only standard was “don’t endanger people’s lives” it would be kind of sad.

The artist Lyeric was at Saskatoon Blitz and has written about her pretty terrible experience on Tumblr. Despite registering early (and the con having a policy stating that they wouldn’t change the layout of the artist alley), Lyeric arrived at the con to find her table given away to someone else.

After securing a replacement spot, things didn’t get better. The alley was bizarrely set up in a “classroom style” layout. If you don’t know what that means, it’s because most conventions aren’t insane enough to use it. It’s a layout where all the tables face the same direction, so the backs of one row are open to the front of the row behind them. You can see this in the photo at the top of this article.

If you’re saying to yourself “Wow, that means that artists don’t have a secure area behind their table to put their cash box and personal possessions!” then you’re right — they don’t! This is literally the worst way to set up any sort of vendor area.

Stuff actually gets worse from here. The convention kept providing conflicting times as to when the Artist Alley was going to close. Every time someone would ask, a different time was given. On the second day of the con, Lyeric found her table given away to another artist and had to be given a different one by the staff.

And it just gets worse from there.

Again, you can read her full account here. While Lyeric’s interactions with the staff may not have been the most polite, it’s hard to blame her for being confrontational. Even if she responded poorly, it doesn’t excuse the laundry list of bizarre and incompetent behavior from Saskatoon Blitz’s staff.

We’ve reached out to Saskatoon Blitz staff, but we are still awaiting a response. Scroll down for Saskatoon Blitz’s response

Update: Some rather disurbing behind the scenes posts from Saskatoon Blitz staff have come to light regarding this situation:

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Update 2: While the staff has not responded to our request for comment, they have issued a statement via Facebook:

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It doesn’t really address the biggest issues brought up by Lyeric’s post, nor the bizarre, creepy behind the scenes revealed from their own discussion.

Update 3 (11:22pm): Saskatoon Blitz seems to have deleted their official Facebook page?

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This is a highly puzzling move to say the least. The official statement posted to Facebook from the con has also been posted to their official website.

Update 4 (6/17 7:25am): Another artist has come forward with a similar story to Lyeric’s about her treatment at the hands of Saskatoon Blitz’s staff.

Update 5 (6/17 10:12am): We reached out a second time to Saskatoon Blitz (to also ask about the disappearance of their Facebook page) and we finally received the following response:

Hello Nerd and Tie

Please see official release online.
Facebook page has been temporarily disabled due to harassment and threats to volunteer staff (including repeat linking to personal information).

We are preparing a number of accurate witness statements of the days events.

It is very unfortunate that the unlawful entry, and harassment of convention staff that caused an artist to be expelled has caused such a storm of defamation.

This is literally a case of a disgruntled patron who was escorted off premises and has taken an inaccurate telling to the Web.

We are choosing to not engage at this point.

Laura Petrishen-Ha

This is… a very confusing response to say the least. While we can’t know exactly what was exchanged between Lyeric and the convention staff, we do know that the layout issues and cases of Artists tables being given away have been corroborated by other artists. The “unlawful entry” bit is confusing because even if there was a badge issue regarding her table helper, Lyeric had a badge (and was listed on their website as a confirmed artist).

Of course, we do want to reiterate that no one should ever threaten any staff member of Saskatoon Blitz — but even if this has occurred, surely removing the Facebook page (which doesn’t reveal the names of the people posting on behalf of the con) doesn’t do anything but move the conversation to venues the con can’t control?

It’s definitely still a puzzling move.

Update 6 (6/18 9:45am): We’ve tried to push for further comment from Saskatoon Blitz staff, but have had little results. After the earlier email from Laura Petrishen-Ha, we responded with:

Regardless of why Lyeric was escorted off the premises, you’ve yet to comment on why some artists found their tables given away upon arrival?

And why was there so much miscommunication around the hours of the Artist Alley?

The response we got was a single line:

No tables were given away

Now, while it’s true that Lyeric was provided a table eventually, it doesn’t change the fact that twice she found another artist in a table that was supposed to be hers. I’m not sure if Petrishen-Ha is purposefully misinterpreting my question or denying Lyeric’s version of events. We sent another email yesterday morning asking for clarification, but have yet to receive a response.

You will also note she ignored the latter question regarding miscommunication.

Over on Tumblr, another artist has made a short post confirming Lyeric’s version of events. Additionally, a Saskatoon Blitz volunteer (who can be seen making a rude comment in the earlier staff group screenshots) has posted a very heartfelt apology for their remarks (although this is not a person who made any of the sexually suggestive comments), but also mentions that they are no longer with Saskatoon Blitz staff — meaning we have yet to hear anything addressing that situation beyond their prior official statement.

At the risk of editorializing even more than I have already, I’m just really confused as to why Saskatoon Blitz just hasn’t apologized. Like here have been repeated opportunities to stop this train – beginning at the convention itself.

I mean, seriously – a post just saying “We f***ed up, sorry. We hope you can forgive us,” would go a really long way in this community and pretty much put the whole damned thing to bed.

Or at least it would have, if they hadn’t decided to drag this situation out.

Update 7 (7/2 11:00am): Is Saskatoon Blitz Dead?

  • Penis

    There should be an archive of shitty cons and the people who run them.

    • Rebecca

      Start using http://archive.is/ to start getting things recorded.
      It’s the only way to counter this sort of “damage control”.

    • Squirrel

      Things like this tend to either kill a con or result in a complete staff turnover. Given how young this con is, it’s probably going to kill it.

      • Nicholas S Schneider

        I’ve seen conventions at this stage go either way. There’s a good possibility that there could be a shake up from within.

        But we won’t know for a while. Staff shakeups tend to happen suddenly, but sometimes take months to occur due to the volunteer nature of some conventions. On the flip side, this could destroy the cons reputation for sure, but could also add to its attendance with the kind of people who enjoy watching trainwrecks.

        Either way their reputation is in the gutter. Quite frankly, even at this point in the game they can fix that 100%.

  • GonzoI

    I don’t believe anyone can use the bland phrase “lacks professionalism” and actually understand the scope of just how bad that is. Participating in and encouraging sexist comments and “joking” about rape are not the sort of things an “inclusive” or “positive family friendly” anything can coexist with. These are EXACTLY the sort of behaviors and comments that conventions worldwide are trying to stop. If the staff is blithely doing the same in the background, it certainly isn’t going to be a safe place for the attendees who shouldn’t have to deal with this sort of sexual harassment. If I were a woman, I would not feel safe attending any con that allows “John Petrishen-Ha”, “Laura Petrishen-Ha”, or “Brian Self” in the door, let alone has them in any sort of staff position.

    Were it just the table issue, it could be excused as amateurs running a con and making stupid mistakes and getting hot headed about it. It could have been resolved when cooler heads prevailed. But “we didn’t mean to get caught” as a response only says that the organization’s leadership is complicit in it and has no intention of doing anything more to “change” than public relations demands.

  • SevenTies

    Let’s say that the artist was being a tough customer.
    Let’s say that the whole staff members were first-timers.
    Let’s even say that the sexual assault talk was written out of frustration and stress.

    The bigger problem at hand here is how the PR is choosing to deal with this (who is, from what I understand, also the coordinator).
    Instead of -say- apologizing for the hurtful words, reprimanding the members who wrote such comments, and refunding the artist to cool everyone’s anger down…
    The PR is saying that those hurtful words were not meant to be hurtful (because we all know intention equals outcome /sarcasm) and is attempting to block away negative feedback from any of their public media.
    That just makes things worse- more arguments pop up, and people tend to not trust businesses that filter their feedback.

    There’s a point where you need to be humble and let go of your ego- that passed a long time ago.

  • Rebecca

    This is why you archive EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING. I use
    http://archive.is/ for archiving things so when someone goes full
    Streisand you can counter it. Also “Preparing Witnesses” sounds more
    like “Getting our story straight and threatening those not stepping in
    line.

  • Torsten Adair

    “Saskatoon Blitz is Saskatchewan’s premiere & longest running Comic, Anime, Gaming, Sci-fi & Pop Culture Convention!” 2011?

    So… are there any archives from previous shows? Any comments?

    As for the show, well, their website is pretty horrid. I tried to find a floor plan, but aside from the hand-drawn map on the Vendors page, could not find anything. The Artist Alley page has a poorly designed list, with no table index, which is something every decent show displays. (This is basic show planning: as soon as someone rents a table, you mark the plan, update the program listing, and add their profile to the website.)

    Was there a program guide at the show?

    • I think you’re being a little unfair – I know plenty of shows that don’t put any of that information on their websites (frankly, layouts and maps are only important AT show), especially ones their size.

      They did a lot of stuff wrong, bit let’s stick with their actual screw ups.

      • Torsten Adair

        Then we should start holding shows to a higher standard, ESPECIALLY those held at convention centers. In this age, you should have a decent website, and your program book, maps, and schedule should be posted a week before the show.

        That’s basic HTML. Insert picture and text. Link to a PDF.
        To not do that, shows that you are not organized or professional.

        Were I to pay money at a new show, I would investigate first.
        If I were competing with Calgary Expo, I’d work my butt off.

        • I’m sorry, but the realities of running a show sometimes means you can’t get this stuff on the site – nor does it need to be. You can call it unprofessional, but their website is pretty typical for a con their size. And sometimes, even at the most professionally run shows, that stuff is shifting until the last minute.

          I honestly don’t know why you’re so focused on their website, since that wasn’t really related to their failings.

          • Torsten Adair

            Because, after I read the internet reporting, that was the first place I went to see what their policies were, if there were maps.

            Because, an organization’s website is their public space. It reflects the organization. It’s their official channel to tell the world who they are and what they do. It is their image, their brand.

            Looking at their website, I see ineptitude on almost every page.

    • Dessa

      The convention I go to doesn’t list the AA people on the website, and we’re one of the largest in the country. Not “every decent show” has that.

      • I’ve done five cons this year. I’m confirmed to do three more (and that number may go up) and only ONE puts out a layout and table number for artists.

        None of these are bad cons.

        • Torsten Adair

          …until they make a mistake.

          Also, they could be BETTER cons.

      • Torsten Adair

        1) Then that’s crappy advertising. Stupid, really, when it costs little to add the names to the website.
        2) “If I had known Insert Name was going to be here, I would have brought my copy of Instant Collectible #548 to get signed! Worst.Show.Ever.”
        3) If I were paying money for a table at that show, I would demand being listed. Otherwise, it’s a sign that the con committee is inept.

  • ariel911

    I’ve archived the artist contract on archive.is and wayback machine. It is all we got.
    https://guestlistapp.com/events/305958?ref=email_receipt1#contact-host

    Note point 5, where they don’t have the correct location named. Saskatoon Inn was the location in 2013. Prairieland Park has been the location for 2014 and 2015.

    Lord help me if I can find the incorporated business name of the group who put on this convention, though:
    Saskatoon Love Love Anime Group was incorporated, lapsed.
    Saskatchewan Anime Blitz and Comic Spectacle was incorporated as sole proprietorship, then as corporation, now lapsed.

    We tried talking to them face-to-face last year after issues (most of which were solved on the fly by a fantastic staff member who is no longer there, many of which were very similar to issues described this year), then through emails this year. Communication was shut off recently on their end, no resolution or acknowledgement of any problems this year. I still don’t hold the AA coordinator completely responsible (as the Chair suggested we should). She wasn’t trained properly, she wasn’t given support, and now she is being thrown under the bus. I truly think that the importance of her job was not communicated to her, and she tried to solve things as best she could, without understanding what on earth was going on. Her name is not on any contracts – even the emails being sent from the Blitz account were under her predecessor’s name until after Blitz was over. As to the screenshots, both she and the vendor coordinator are very young women – I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking up in that chat room, against people you see as mentors, if I were them. I place this blame squarely on the shoulders of the coordinator, as well as her choice to involve a couple with such an unsavory business reputations in Saskatoon. I did not find out until arrival at the convention that that couple were involved at all, as they do not disclose their board, nor who is actually staff.

    To everyone pleading to give them a second chance: this year WAS their second chance with us, as well as many other artists and vendors.

    Edit: formatting issues

    • SevenTies

      Out of curiosity- is it required to have an incorporated business to hold a yearly convention? Are there any consequences to not having an organization behind the con?

      • ariel911

        I believe it means that the organizer is personally liable.

        I am not sure, though. Don’t take my word for it. It could be that one of the many business ventures put forth by the prolific couple in the screenshots was the group that signed for Blitz. I don’t know.

        The point to that was I have no idea what group, if any, is legally responsible for Blitz.

        • Torsten Adair

          I would start with whomever signed the contacts to rent the exhibition space.

  • Mister E. Nigma

    The way they’ve handled this is atrocious and heavy-handed. Closing their FB page (but maintaining an invite-only closed group, ostensibly private for their “community”) was bad form. Instead of facing the allegations (and screenshots) with honesty and integrity, they’ve locked down any public space they control and are pasting their PR response anywhere without a comment section. Saskatoon Blitz is a privately-owned business, and its owners are just doing anything they can to keep it from crashing and burning. Hardly a community effort, just a community of volunteers giving their time away not just for their passionate geeky pursuits, but in support of a for-profit entity run by a self-described feminist who jokes about broom-on-bum forced sodomy. NOT COOL.