APE was full of surprises this year! For those unfamiliar with the Alternative Press Expo (APE), it is a small artist focused expo that used to reside in the San Francisco Bay Area owned privately by Comic Con. After last year's APE, news spread that the original creator of APE, Dan Vado, bought back the rights to the expo, and had big plans of switching up the game. That frightened many artists, myself included, and stopped us from investing in a booth. On Saturday, October 3rd, I took that hour drive to APE to see what artists holding booths and regular attendees thought of the new APE.
After speaking with several passing by attendees, I quickly learned a few troubling information. Unless you were a hardcore APE fan who took the 1-2.5 hour commute from San Francisco, you were either a San Jose art student looking to branch out (not bad) or you had no idea what APE was and just happened to walk in. Unfortunately, this meant numbers in attendance visually was an extreme low. This also meant those who came in weren't entirely art enthusiast, weren't interested in buying or networking, and questioned what on earth they walked into. The biggest comment made was how those who did intend to come to APE had gotten lost where the main entrance was; some taking 30 minutes to find the door. Fans from San Francisco commented they will attend next year as support to exhibiting friends, but otherwise do not feel it's worth the trip. On the other hand, San Jose fans showed mixed responses saying it's a unique show and they were glad to have stopped in, or that it is too confusing to follow both directions and expo culture that it took more effort to find the artwork they wanted to see (fan art, originals, etc). There may be some hope from an attending stand point, but until there is a stronger culture focus it will likely lose attraction in the coming years.
I'd gone ahead and reached out to over 30 exhibiting artists to learn what they thought of APE; both new booth holders and veterans of APE. The results were intriguing, and to put it simply, very intense reads. Though everyone who contributed their views held really solid points, I wanted to highlight these top 5 responses:
- THE BOOTH:
The table space was doubled in length, going from originally 4 feet to 8 with 8'x8' space behind you with a white and teal curtain backdrop. It's a positive and negative to have actual breathing room behind you; the positive having more space to work with, and the negative it made your booth feel empty, especially with no outlets. As for attendees, the walkway was massive so there was no issue of claustrophobia or overheating. However, it made the building feel too big and hurt the lively atmosphere.
- LACK OF ADVERTISING:
Many exhibitors and attendees got lost as to where the entrance of APE was, and which building the exhibiting artists were in. This was in part due to lack of advertising prior or at the expo, which relates back to foot traffic. Many attendees weren't aware of the convention until stepping in the expo. Vado's attempt of holding a Kickstarter for APE 2015 to sell tickets was also a complete bust, which brought many exhibiting artists before the show to be very concerned of sales. Overall, all of the artists I've reached out to agreed advertising could have been significantly better.
- BREAKING EVEN:
There were so few people throughout the day, many feared they would not break even. The majority of the exhibiting artists I've reached did manage to break even, but just barely to call it a success. The cost of the booth as well as expense to make the trip from San Francisco to San Jose left many exhibitors unable to break even. Those who lived in San Jose or close found the costs less bothersome, but agreed improvements could be made.
- EXPO CULTURE:
The attendees seemed primarily female oriented, and small items such as buttons and small prints sold most. However, the majority of the sales really had no structure in terms of age, gender, nor interests in art types (fanart, originals, fantasy, etc). It appears the exhibiting artists who received the lowest attention were comic artists; the same artists APE was originally created to highlight. Additionally, APE has always been a means of networking for big name and starting artists. With the majority of the big names gone, that networking culture is slowly diminishing as well.
- APE'S FUTURE GOALS:
There wasn't any sort of focus on the expo's goals, nor help for the exhibiting artists. Many exhibitors expressed feeling mistreated, and though the majority failed to call the expo a success, some commented that APE staff and volunteers called it successful. It is possible the expo made profits from the artist booths, and possibly from the small walk-ins, and that is what titles their success. However, this cannot be determined without the facts. I've reached out to Vado for comments; no response at this time.
Overall, there were lots of comments on the positives and negatives, and I will likely write a future article with a breakdown of what conventions may be smart to hold booths for 2016. For now, it seemed as a whole this year's APE was mediocre. Changes that could have been positives were turned into negatives, and too many negatives left artists and attendees flustered. Many exhibiting artists agree though the turnout was rather poor this time around, and they would recommend first time booth holders to consider the expo entirely for experience until a new San Francisco artist expo comes around. Some exhibitors did comment they will hold next year if friends attend, but otherwise the drive to exhibit at APE seems to have dwindled significantly.
The convention has loads to improve on and with returning owner Vado and a brand new staff to manage it'll take time for their goals to come true. The big question is whether artists are willing to be a part of that venture. I'll leave that to you.
Waiting for response from APE owner Dan Vado for comments.
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