After the third annual ClexaCon ended on April 15 in Las Vegas, vendors came forward on social media with several concerns about the con’s organization and safety, among other visible issues. Since the con debuted in 2017, it has been a shining example of the very few LGBTQ-focused and -friendly conventions in the U.S. Forwardly feminist and queer content-driven, ClexaCon was openly praised in the past for being an inclusive, safe space for everyone who happens to hang their hat under the queer umbrella. Their mission statement is to create that kind of space.

Unfortunately, many attendees, vendors and artists who were at this year’s ClexaCon did not feel safe or respected in the space.  

In the days since the con ended, several vendors and attendees told The Beat that ClexaCon’s previous years were something special. For many, their experiences in 2017 and 2018 led them to encourage their friends and other LGBTQ artists and vendors to attend the convention.

Jordaan Arledge, a returning vendor at this year’s show, told The Beat via DM about how heavily they promoted ClexaCon after having vended in 2018: “I signed up as a vendor this year. This was my second year, too. In the interim I VERY HEAVILY promoted ClexaCon and encouraged my friends to attend and vend.”

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The artist alley, which is a staple at almost all comic and anime conventions, was seemingly an afterthought at this year’s show. The con also hosts a number of celebrity autograph sessions, panels and workshops in the main section of the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. At time of writing, the ClexaCon website makes no mention of the artist alley or dealer hall, nor did the website mention these areas during the con itself.

Arledge is not the only vendor who spoke highly of the convention from years past. Jiji Knight, another vendor at the 2019 show, also spoke about how the convention was marketed and positive experiences they had heard from vendors past.

“My experience in one word would be lackluster,” Knight told The Beat via DM. “I expected a lot more from how the convention presented itself: more foot traffic, grand shows of inclusivity, ways to announce your pronouns, attentive staff, etc. It just seemed, with how the website and social media was handled, that they had a firm grasp on what they were doing.”

Knight also said that she felt confident about this experience from the moment she sent the payment until she got to the convention itself, where the negative tone for the weekend set in almost immediately.

It’s important to note that during the transition from ClexaCon 2018 to 2019 there was a change in executive staff. Holly Winebarger stepped down as owner and executive director of ClexaCon. Ashley Arnold and Danielle Jablonski took up the reins for this year’s show.

The sudden shift in leadership only a handful of months before the 2019 convention seems to have not only changed the inclusive feel of the convention, but thrown the ever-growing vendor hall into chaos.

Of the four different artists and vendors who spoke to The Beat each of them had a unique and equally disconcerting experience which seemed to stem mostly from the disorganization of the convention’s vendor space itself. It’s pertinent to mention that a large majority of the staff, including the Vendor Coordinator for ClexaCon 2019, stepped down days after the convention ended.

https://twitter.com/Metriosity/status/1118355904347299840

Artists and vendors Shelby Wolf and Kristin Noell both told The Beat that when they arrived at the hotel for the convention, there was no signage for the badge pick-up area, nor for artist alley — at all. Wolf told The Beat via DM, “We checked the maps. Unclear. There is no signage and no staff to help.”

Noell added that the hotel staff gave wrong directions when attempting to point them to the vendor space. Knight confirmed this confusion, noting that vendors had a hard time finding the spaces they paid to occupy for the duration of the con.

Additionally, Arledge expressed frustration over the layout of the vendor hall itself. They said some vendors were stuck in corners that no one visited. “Everything—save for signings—were outside the hall,” Arledge told The Beat. “How vendors were arranged seemed to be at random. I run a micro press, and I was placed between a fan art print wall and a pin designer. More than once, an attendee came to my table asking about buying prints, despite my comics and branded tablecloth.”

According to attendees who commented on The Beat’s previous coverage, the official ClexaCon app did have an artist alley map; however, there was seemingly no signage or instruction available for non-app users at the con.

The difficulties did not stop there. In contrast to previous years, vendors were not provided with badges identifying their roles at the con. Instead, they were given the same 3-day badges as attendees, as well as small, purple vendor ribbons attached to their lanyards to identify them. On more than one occasion, vendors told The Beat, they were told to leave the convention hall as it was closed to attendees.

Arledge explained, “Our emails [from ClexaCon organizers] stated that we had until 7:30 p.m. to vacate the hall (pack up what we needed and leave) on Saturday and Sunday. At 7:06 p.m., we were asked to leave. A second volunteer—once the first left us alone—then started asking, ‘Is this your table? If not, you need to leave.’”

This lack of organization and communication contributed to low traffic in artist alley. According to the vendors who spoke to The Beat, lack of signage at ClexaCon 2019 and poor management of the vendor space lead to the dealer hall being nearly deserted most of the weekend. Vendors noted that it was a struggle just to make back what they paid for their tables, not to mention travel expenses.

ClexaCon 2019 artist alley
Photo of “typical” traffic at the ClexaCon 2019 artist alley, provided by Shelby Wolf.

Unfortunately, financial concerns didn’t end at lack of sales. Knight told The Beat that other vendors approached her table and asked what she paid for her space. According to a table pricing chart from the ClexaCon website, tables were tiered according to size, space behind the table, and location — all of which are standard fare for vendors at cons. 


However, Knight said that people who had purchased “Exhibitor Packages” saw no perks for the extra money they paid and vendors who specifically purchased certain sized tables did not receive those tables. In a tweet thread, Knight said that vendors arrived at ClexaCon to find significantly smaller tables and far less space than was promised in their emails from the con organizers.

This lack of space led to safety and accessibility concerns in the vendor hall. Wolf told The Beat that there was “barely three feet of space” behind her table. The vendor behind her was selling glassware, which accidentally shattered; despite repeated requests for clean-up, the broken glass remained on the floor for the duration of the con.

Broken glass at ClexaCon 2019
Photo of broken glass on the floor of artist alley, provided by Shelby Wolf.

Vendors report that no con or hotel staff reached out to concerned attendees about the glass or the safety of the room in regards to accessibility or fire codes. Both Wolf and Noell joked that the only thing keeping them sane through the whole weekend was the person handing out free shots of vodka in the vendor area—without checking ID.

Knight confirmed that there was a vodka sponsor booth in the artist alley and although she did not see anyone handing out free drinks without asking for ID, when she approached the booth for drinks she was not carded and she was allowed to take drinks back to her tablemate, who also was not carded. Several other vendors also claimed that they received free shots of vodka, again without being asked for ID.

Beyond the broken glass and vodka shots, security was also lax at the con. Arledge, Knight, Wolf and Noell all told The Beat that there were no security checks in place all weekend. No one checked bags or badges, which lead to seemingly anyone being able to walk into the convention space at the hotel.

Con attendee Tabitha Cain told The Beat via DM, in addition to tweeting, that badges and bags were not checked. In her thread, another attendee replied and said that they walked into the con with their cousin without either of them paying to attend ClexaCon. Others expressed similar concerns about lack of security in reply to Cain’s tweet.

To express their frustration, several vendors, headed by Arledge, composed an open letter to ClexaCon with a list of grievances and suggestions for change at future shows. It was only after days of the letter’s circulation and the creation of the Twitter hashtag #Clexapocalypse in which other artists, attendees and vendors began speaking out about their experiences over the weekend that ClexaCon released any type of statement. The Beat’s attempts to reach ClexaCon organizers for comment were unanswered, though they sent the following e-mail to Arledge. 
Email from ClexaCon organizers to Jenn Arledge
Email from ClexaCon organizers to Jenn Arledge
Arledge and others expressed frustration that this seemingly canned response did not account for any specific concerns. As of Friday, ClexaCon organizers do not appear to have addressed the vendors’ list of grievances. No official plans for ClexaCon 2020 have been announced, but if one is planned, hopefully organization will improve so that this con can execute its mission statement in full.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the artist alley was a new addition to ClexaCon in 2019. We apologize for this misinformation and have corrected the story accordingly.

8 COMMENTS

  1. So essentially, Holly planned a majority of this year’s clexacon as the new owners were only in charge of it for 3.5 months is what im reading?

  2. Is there a personal reason why you are so against this con? I know that some vendors and attendees had complaints. But you are makkma it sound that the entire event was a failure, and all the attendees were frustrated. As far as I know, that’s not the case at all! Many people were happy to be there. And clexacon s reply to the vendor wasn’t canned. It was sincere. They are still learning. And they are trying very hard to be a safe place to celebrate wlw relationships. To create a dialogue. And they have made a difference. TV producers and actors are actually talking about the importance of showing same sex relationships with happy endings, instead of showing a relationship that hardly lasts two seconds. They can do better, yes. But to suggest that the entire con failed is irresponsible and also smells of some personal vendetta. Atleast they have the guts to try and bring about change.

  3. There were parts of the vendor room that had lower traffic, and the person speaking up and sharing photos was, unfortunately, in what seemed like the worst one. The experience in that back corner was not what it was like in the rest of the room.
    Everything was easy to find in the app, and any time I felt the slightest bit lost navigating the con (lack of cell reception did complicate app use), a volunteer asked what I was looking for. They had a different layout than in previous years and were still learning it themselves the first day, but I never got steered the wrong direction.
    I had my badge checked at least twice a day. Though I believe people might have gotten past unbadged because there wasn’t a set, bottleneck checkpoint, there was security keeping an eyeeon things and the volunteers checked badges, especially going into the more popular panels. They were just subtle about it, not stopping people unless they couldn’t see their badge. I appreciated the lack of severe checkpoint, personally; the last convention I attended took over an hour to let attendees in at the start of each day.
    I am sorry multiple vendors had bad experiences, but the convention itself was not the disaster these articles are painting it to be. It was warm and informative and supportive.

  4. As an attendee, I can empathize with those who had grievances. Personally, I didn’t have many issues over the course of the weekend. I’m thinking it’s because I have attended the con in the past and took for granted that I knew where things already were. However, I did notice a lack of signage for some things. Upon arrival, I didn’t see signage to the pre-con badge party, but volunteers did help with that. I did have to ask where the photo ops area was as well, but again, I was directed easily. I did have friends and acquaintances with booths in AA and some did far better than others. Again, as an attendee, I did find it oddly quiet in the AA. Last year was steadily full. Some of that may have been from lines to photos and signatures, but I can’t say for sure. But yeah, it was oddly easy to maneuver this year. And no, I don’t recall any signage to promote AA. One thing I noticed was the lack of security check. I know I had my bag searched each time last year so I was surprised there wasn’t a check this year. I remember walking back into the AA after a photo op that I removed my badge for and forgot to put it back on before returning. It had been nearly an hour before I remembered I wasn’t wearing it. I do recall corner booths with little to no patronage. I felt for them.
    From an attendee’s viewpoint, my “issues” are small in comparison. I personally had an amazing weekend with little trouble. I only hope that the grievances others had are addressed and that ClexaCon can still be a great experience for attendees and vendors in the future.

  5. These hit pieces on CC are so disingenuous it’s almost funny. I can believe that there were organizational issues but so much of this reporting is ridic. Take Wolf’s pic. I saw that area many times. Turn the camera a few degrees & at almost any point there would be hundreds of people lining up for autos.
    I bought stuff in the alley from a few vendors but there were many tables I walked right by because I wasn’t interested in what they were selling. That’s one fact many of these vendors aren’t interested in accepting – that there just wasn’t always a market for their wares.

  6. It frustrates me when people think this issue was ‘just a few vendors’ who didn’t make sales because there just ‘wasn’t a market’.
    If you read the actual formal letter we wrote, over 30 artists had these issues. And this was a tiny hall, so that is a massive amount of artists. For that many people to make extremely poor sales is a problem with the convention itself, not the artists. We know what our usual sales rate is, many of us are veterans, we have experienced cons with low attendance and ones where our merch just wasn’t the hot thing, we know what that’s like. This was unprecedented.
    Yes, the vendor hall was in the autograph room, but people who come to a room looking to get autographs are going to get autographs, not artist merch. The lack of signage and visibility is the main problem, because people who are actively looking for the AA are going to be the ones buying things, and they couldn’t easily find us.
    Yes, there was a teensy tiny map on the app, but I’m sorry that’s just not remotely good enough.
    There were also many issues with sketchy tax stuff, the broken glass IS inexcusable, the lack of security, etc. We aren’t putting this con on blast for shits and giggles, we all wanted it to succeed, and we’re not sore losers either. When the majority of your artists had a terrible weekend, either your con needs work, or you apparently invited just a ton of shitty artists with stuff no one wants to buy. Which is more likely?

  7. I don’t think anyone is saying the con doesn’t have to change, vendor. Clearly, the vendor hall had issues that should be addressed next year.
    What brought out the defensiveness, at least for me, and it seems like for the others based on their comments, is that the articles addressing it on this blog painted the whole con with a negative light, wrote titles and slants that made it sound like the entire convention was riddled with the same issues.
    I would be extremely disappointed if clexacon didn’t address the vendor issues for next year. I’m glad vendors are airing their grievances. However, the experience for the majority of attendees was positive, and nothing about a series of articles making the entire convention sound like a failure sits right.

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