With a record breaking increase in size and scale, 2016’s Anime Expo found itself under scrutiny from artists and exhibitors who raised concerns over the conditions in the location of this year’s Artist Alley.
Artist Alley is the area where amateur and semi-professional artists exhibit and sell their handcrafted work, which include, but not limited to, original artwork, prints, crafts, small press publications, and clothing.
With the growth of Anime Expo over the years, it was the decision of the convention to relocate Artist Alley to another location. According to an official press release, the Exhibit Hall expanded by 40%, taking over the space Artist Alley had occupied in prior years. Housed in the Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall, the Exhibit Hall became fully dedicated to professional vendors and exhibitors.
Artist Alley was relocated to Kentia Hall to be housed alongside table top gaming and guest autograph sessions.
Located below South Hall, Kentia Hall is a 162,000 sq ft space, often found in previous AX events as a secondary parking structure. Kentia Hall is equipped as a fully functional and air conditioned exhibitor space with an occupancy of 9,000, according to the official LACC brochure.
The larger dedicated space for Artist Alley seemed to be a step in acknowledging its importance and growth as a staple of the event. Despite this, artists and attendees alike tweeted concerning accounts of poor conditions and general dissatisfaction throughout the show.
Finni Chang, a 10-year veteran artist, was the most prominent voice in reporting the conditions in Artist Alley through Twitter. In an open letter posted on Tumblr, Finni describes Artist Alley’s conditions:
While I cannot be a primary source of Day 0’s conditions, the temperature during setup hours on Day 1 was hot, muggy, humid, and generally miserable. When I complained to a staff member, they assured us that there would be AC in the room, and sure enough, around 11am I could feel a very light breeze in my area. While this continued for a few hours, the air flow had all but stopped by early afternoon, and [Artist Alley] quickly heated up into an unbearable temperature. It was significantly cooler outside Kentia Hall, and even significantly cooler outdoors upon exiting the convention.
Setup hours on day 2 felt like the air flow had improved. AC was running, although softly, and we waited for attendees to fill the room. But again, the afternoon was sweltering. The number of bodies in a cramped space combined with the physical structure of Kentia Hall made the entire place feel like a sauna. My skin was sticking to itself and nearly every attendee that walked past my table was furiously fanning themselves with a paper fan or a program book. I complained to a staff member, asking if there was any way they could please turn the AC on or if it was on, to turn it up higher. I was told that as [Artist Alley] staff, they aren’t able to affect any changes on the way AX is run, and that if I had a complaint, I should fill out a form at the [Anime Expo Artist Alley] HQ desk because the management chain would listen more to artist complaints than staff complaints. They also informed me that the reason for the AC situation was that AX management was trying to keep to a budget and save on operating cost.
As noted by the following tweets corroborating Chang’s account, Artist Alley’s occupants experienced a range of dissatisfaction:
this no ac artist alley making my stomach hurt more
— moo @ red sentais (@_BEPS1) July 1, 2016
i ended up nearly having an anxiety-induced meltdown bc of all the people and the pushing and the shoving. but later on it turned around
— akarin (@crystarius) July 2, 2016
I can’t believe my friend is getting rashes from just being in artist alley at AX. Health risk, much????
— Crystal @PKMNGo Hell (@wizardofkitty) July 3, 2016
Sweating it up in the artist alley
— STUPIDDEAD☆SKULLHEAD (@MikeLuckas) July 2, 2016
T__T I’ve been getting so dizzy bc of the parking garage lmao
— bloo@ SJ ??? (@sol0sii) July 3, 2016
me w/o the fan on when dungeon oven’s ac dies down pic.twitter.com/kTsiWfINsd
— VEE (@vykeeXP) July 4, 2016
2) tabletop gaming did not need that much space in kentia hall, please give artist alley bigger aisles
— Jenny | AX B28 ✨ (@asunnydisposish) July 5, 2016
Another artist, speaking under the request to remain anonymous, noted during Day 1, Thursday, June 30th:
The chairs were uncomfortable, and the AC was definitely not powerful enough to compete with the sheer amount of foot traffic in the area for the first two days. If it was too hot for me in plain t-shirts and shorts, I can’t imagine what it was like for full costumed cosplayers. Attendees were also fanning themselves as they were [walking] through the alley.
The most concerning account came from artist Zhelly Zee, who fainted while tabling in Artist Alley and needed emergency medical attention. 2016 was Zhelly’s fifth time at Anime Expo and has sold at Artist Alley every year. According to Zhelly, while Anime Expo allowed artists to set up their tables for the first time during Day 0, or Wednesday, June 29th, Kentia Hall was “boiling hot” and the lone drinking fountain was inoperable.
While a staff member told Zhelly the hall would be cooler after Day 0, Day 1 and 2 did not see an improvement, as also noted by the above open letter and tweets. Zhelly Zee responded to the Tokusatsu Network’s request of her personal account:
Day 2 was absolutely miserable. I arrived at 9:30am and up until noon, I felt a nice subtle breeze on my back and then suddenly it stopped, and as the room grew more and more and more crowded, the temperature rose. An attendee was nice enough to give me a fan he’d received upstairs. I thought, “Wow, most of these artists don’t have fans and are using their badges or pieces of paper while these are being given away for free, I wish an Artist Alley coordinator would hand them out to us.”
At 5:30, half an hour before we closed, our table neighbor gave my partner and I Artist Alley claim sheets to fill out. We were all so angry about how hot it was and how, seemingly, the AC had been turned off entirely and how it had ruined our business for the day. They let too many people in and no one could stop and browse our work or risk being trampled, everyone was sluggish and overheated and it was incredibly overwhelming.
When she went to complain about it and ask what they were going to do to fix the situation, she was given the sheets. I was turned in my chair, facing her direction to discuss it, and slowly her voice faded away and I was watching her mouth move but unable to process what she was saying. I remember asking her to repeat herself, and trying so hard to concentrate but my eyes kept rolling back into my head. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor behind our table and my partner was holding ice packs to my face and there were two staff members fanning me and requesting EMTs. Thankfully I hadn’t hit my head, but fell forward into my lap, and was then was moved to the floor.
According to Zhelly’s partner and their table neighbor, the medical response was immediate as a staff member was their the row and swiftly called for help. With the aid of another staffer, they fanned Zhelly while EMT responded. Zhelly’s account continues:
…they were kind and talked to me for a bit until lifting me into a wheelchair and taking me from the hall. I was given about 6 water bottles from various people.
They took me to an air conditioned room with a bed and once I laid down, that was sort of it. As I became more aware, I wondered when they would take my blood pressure, or even my temperature, but they never did. I felt my blood sugar dropping and I was shaking, and eventually when my friends joined me, they helped me ask for a juice box or some kind of sugary snack. The EMTs weren’t really prepared for that, and one went to buy me a [Snickers bar]. It was nice, but seemed really strange as well. They only took down my name and my number; there was no protocol. While I appreciated everything they did, overall, it seemed unprofessional; which felt more like a shortcoming on the convention’s part rather than the EMT staff themselves, as I overheard them discussing the conditions with frustration.
Furthermore, Zhelly brought up concerns over how the staffers in Anime Expo’s Artist Alley HQ responded to the incident.
In the morning on Day 3, the same staff member who had helped fan me showed up and gave us another claim sheet and asked if there was anything I needed before leaving. I filled the entire page.
A new staff member came to collect it, and said I had to come with her to the Artist Alley Headquarters.
The night before, after I’d been taken out of the hall, my partner was brought into the HQ to answer questions. They didn’t believe that my partner knew any of my personal information and they were not taken very seriously. The man kept asking what my role at the table was, for some reason unable to believe that I was an artist also selling there, as if most of the tables in the artist alley did not have multiple people at them already due to the exorbitant cost increase.
When I was brought in, the room was incredibly cold and comfortable and there were staff members sitting at a long table. They almost made fun of my partner, bringing up again how there was no way [my partner] would know my information. I was seriously confused, and explained that we lived together and had been dating for a long time. The man that I spoke to was rather rude and joked about my situation, how they’d be sending me a bill for all of their trouble, etc. I didn’t think the fact that I fainted was something coordinators should be joking about, especially because I still felt incredibly sick into Day 3. It wasn’t until Day 4 that I felt like myself again.
As Chang mentioned in the open letter, staff members in Artist Alley advised any tabling artists to write down written complaints and submit them to Anime Expo management.
ATTN ARTISTS: If you are SWEATY and MISERABLE at AX’16’s Artist Alley, you NEED to fill out a complaint form at the AA HQ table near D37.
— Finni Chang | AX L7 (@FinniChang) July 3, 2016
As stated by the previous artist speaking anonymously:
I would like to give credit where credit is due. There is a rule in the [Artist Alley] packet that states that the area behind artists must remain clear and thanks to that, they were able to get the EMT staff in and out quickly for the assist. They handled the emergency situation well, but I really do think conditions shouldn’t have gotten to that point in the first place.
By the final two days of Anime Expo, Sunday, July 3rd and Monday, the 4th, conditions in Kentia Hall seemed to improve with stronger air conditioning that provided a better air flow as well as a stricter enforcement of the hall’s foot traffic capacity by staffers and volunteers. Generally, many give credit to Anime Expo’s overall response after written concerns were addressed and noted how well individual staffers offered tangible aid and solutions given the situation.
Overall, however, the experience left artists feeling poorly treated and those who have responded to the Tokusatsu Network at the time of this writing stated they do not intend to return in 2017.
Chang offered further tangible suggestions, such as a salaried head staffer to act as a dedicated liaison between Anime Expo management and those tabling at Artist Alley, and urged fellow artists and attendees to remain professional and offer constructive feedback through official channels.
Anime Expo responded to the Tokusatsu Network regarding these accounts with the following statement, “[the] Anime Expo staff has responded to all complaints as they were brought to their attention during the event. Anime Expo also intends to bring these reports to the attention of the [Los Angeles Convention Center] to work on solutions for future events.”