In the next 5 days, I will have to make a very hard decision that will affect the lives of hundreds of people and alter a year of dedication and hard work for dozens of people.
I'm speaking of OctopodiCon.
A year ago, we were just finishing up (depending on your perspective) one of the best steampunk conventions in the midwest, or one of the worst (Oklahoma Steampunk Exposition). The organizers decided it was too much hard work and didn't want to repeat it. Rather than passing the convention on to the next group of organizers culled from within their convention committee staff, they decided to sell it.
None of us were financially able to buy it, but we all wanted another steampunk convention.
That's how OctopodiCon was born. The name was originally just a placeholder name and became the official name because no one suggested a better one.
We have a TON of support for the convention, but not a single bit of the support is monetary.
People are volunteering goods and services like nobody's business. The local library system is giving us meeting space for monthly Teas (kind of like science cafes with a strong steampunk emphasis) and is doing a one day festival to recruit and advertise for OctopodiCon. The local art museum is offering gallery space for our artists. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is offering us research materials and will set up an info booth there. We have college professors preparing programming and makeshops (classes where they learn to make something and keep the final product) and a lineup of some of the finer entertainers in steampunk appearing (most just for admission and access to the Professor's Lounge). The local bookstores are handing out our bookmarks in every bag. The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) is putting up prize money for two contests - an automaton contest for junior and senior high students and a remote control airship contest for college aged and up adults. The local hobby engineering group is donating parts for a Mad Engineers contest.
I have all the people I can use and then some to put on a kick-ass 3 day indoor science festival with a steampunk theme - from Tesla engine designers to entomologists, from working prop makers to spy decoder devices, from geophysicists to women historians, from multicultural costumers to historical dancers, from gamers to artists, from comedians to vaudevillians.
Attendees can sip tea in the Tea Parlour, shop in the Art Gallery and Mercantile, meet authors and hear readings in the Scriptorium, be entertained in the Spectacularium, make things in the Laboratorium, play games in the Mysterium, watch movies in the Theater, or socialize in the Promenade.
And yet. And yet. We have no operating capital to accomplish this. I am not a fundraiser. No one else on my ConCom is, either. I can write grants, and I have done so - over 40 of them. We've been declined by all but one - and they have all said they love the idea, they encourage our goal of advancing science through immersive historical experience, and they'll be happy to consider funding us next year or the year after, but not this year, since this is our inaugural year.
I've tried selling ads for the handouts we give at every Tea, and to put online, and to place inside the programming books we'll be providing, and even as banners to put up around the halls like a NASCAR event. I've contacted every business, group, agency, and society that would fund an event like this and many more. Some want to print their own flyers and place them - for free! - in our registration bags. A few have bought tables to sell their product on (Tandy Leather, Helen Enox Fabrics...). All of em have been interested in the concept and most have said, "not this year, maybe next year, after you've done this".
Not one single ad or Tea sponsorship has been sold.
I tried getting people locally to do a Kickstarter, and had tepid interest at best. A lovely person here on DKos designed a sample Kickstarter video and that was more than I could get anyone else to do here.
I tried to borrow the money from the bank and - well - let's say that working a job that pays less that $10 an hour gets you some rather incredulous looks when you try to put up your house and your ancient car as collateral - I don't earn enough to pay them back, they say.
They say. But - refinancing my house at its current value would lower my monthly mortgage payment by nearly $200 (my house is nearly paid off and I owe 1/6 of its current value), so making the repayments would be ludicrously easy compared to the payments I'm making now - and you'd think they'd be jonesing to get more interest monies off of me because I'm down to paying almost entirely on the principal of the house and they aren't making much off me now with the interest.
We have a huge number of pre-registrations for a first time event, and a lot of hotel reservations. As we get closer to the event (it's in 6 months), both pre-registrations and hotel reservations are picking up.
We haven't touched any of the money we've collected from vendors and pre-registrations so far.
Everything we've spent on this - licenses, permits, printing, advertising, the Teas, postage, fees - have come out of my pocket and only my pocket.
And I've long since scraped the bottom of my purse, turned it inside out, and have picked all the lint off it checking for hidden pennies. I've been collecting and cashing in aluminum and cashed in all the old coins I once had.
I have nothing of value I can sell or use as collateral beyond my house and my 15 year old car.
I don't have anything left I can put int this, and on Tuesday next week, I need to pay $12,500.00 in a deposit for the site - we'll get the money back in October but I need to pay it now.
I have a friend who will front me that much money from her inheritance of her mother's death (my mother's death paid off my children's college loans), but I fear, at the rate we've been so very not raising funds, that I will need much more money to front for this event before it happens. I have the 2nd half of the deposit for the site to pay in August ($6,500.00), the purchasing of the makeshop materials and such in August, transportation costs of 6 of our 40 guests to pay in September, the printing of the T-shirts and registration bags and badges and signage in September, the purchasing of the food and beverages for the Professors Lounge and Tea Parlour in also in September, and the printing of the programming books and such in September, so that will be at least another $15,000, and probably closer to $20,000
If I can't get my ConCom to earnestly sell ads and memberships and run a successful Kickstarter, it all ends on Monday, May 14th.
I am not going to ask my friend to front $12,500 if we won't be able to also get at least $15,000 for the other up-front costs by August.
What slays me is that based on last year's steampunk convention and current pre-registrations and hotel reservations, we will not only make back the costs in October, we will make enough to apply towards a repeat convention in 2013 - and we already have a waiting list of professors and performers who want to be there in 2013 because we didn't have space for them this year. That first steampunk convention attracted nearly 3,000 attendees. If we get 1,200 attendees, we will earn back over 100% of the money we need to spend now. If we get the same number of attendees as last year's convention, we will pay for next year's convention in advance and pay back all of this year's convention, too.
I wish I had the confidence that we could raise the front money somehow to put this event on - I hate the thought of calling the library, the museums, SAME, and everyone and telling them "sorry, just couldn't pull it together after all". Disappointing all of them will hurt so much more than refunding all the pre-paid memberships (remember, we haven't touched that money, so it's all there to return) or paying all the cancellation fees (that's less than $5,000).
I'm meeting with my friend tonight to discuss the transfer of funds and the payment of that first deposit. Since she's the treasurer for OctopodiCon, she knows exactly what shape we are in financially. What we're deciding tonight is if we can manage to get the remaining $15,000 in 3 months when we haven't been able to raise any significant amount of money in 12 months. I seeded it with $3,000 from my Worker's Compensation settlement, and I've spent another $2,400 for the Teas and fees and permits and licenses we've needed (Oklahoma is NOT small business or educational charity friendly at all). I need to renew our business license this month, and buy the event permit - and I haven't been able to save up the money to pay for the 501(c) filing but I should have the money for that next month - if we don't end up cancelling OctopodiCon.
If we decide the chances of raising that money is slim to none, that's when we start the process of ending a grand venture that has excited so many people. I hate disappointing people, from those who worked so hard to get it as far as we have to those anticipating the convention.
It won't be the end of steampunk locally, we'll still be able to do the monthly Teas. It will, however, be the end of OctopodiCon.