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DashCon organizers tell their side of the con disaster story

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Less than a week after DashCon became the punchline of Tumblr’s latest meme, the convention organizers posted a lengthy press release explaining their side of the story.

The facts were these: DashCon was a convention for Tumblr users. Once the convention was in full swing, organizers suddenly told attendees that they needed to crowdfund $17,000 in hotel fees or they’d be shut down. In cash and via Paypal, the 1000-1500 conventiongoers somehow managed to scrape this money together.

Then several high-profile guests pulled out, either because they hadn’t been paid or because they’d unexpectedly been charged for their hotel rooms. One such guest was cult podcast Welcome to Night Vale, whose cancelled performance led to DashCon infamously offering a free hour in the ball pit as compensation for missing the show.

From a PR perspective, the new press release is too little, too late. While plenty of people at the convention had a good time and said the staff were friendly and helpful, DashCon’s biggest problems were on social media. As a convention created by first-time organizers, DashCon went through the wringer, with Tumblr and Twitter buzzing with gossip and memes throughout the weekend.

Titled “Separating Facts from Fiction,” DashCon’s official statement attempts to tackle their biggest criticisms. Since because it’s more than 4,000 words long, plus illustrations, here’s our breakdown of the most important parts.

Explaining the $17,000

The hotel was supposedly paid $21,000 beforehand, leaving $7,000 to be paid using money earned during the convention. The press release states that on the day before the convention began, the hotel asked for more than $10,000 for “event services” including electricity, which had previously not been mentioned to the organizers.

The post includes a table of payments relating to the $17,000 fundraiser, saying that $11,779.86 was paid to the hotel in cash, $6,000 via DashCon’s Paypal debit card, and a couple of smaller transfers from pre-existing funds. We contacted the DashCon organizers for clarification, but they did not reply.

Refunds from the $17,000 fundraiser

Anyone who wants their donation refunded should contact the admins before 11.59pm Saturday, the organizer-set cutoff date.

Paypal refunds should be easy enough, but it’s unclear how the organizers will verify which cash donation claims are genuine. People just handed over money during the fundraiser, with a high proportion of attendees being teenagers who were probably worried about being thrown out of the hotel. DashCon’s cash refund policy is as follows:

“Upon advice of our legal counsel, we have been instructed to sort through claims, try and determine legitimacy [based on total amount claimed versus total amount received], and make an informed decision about potential refunds.”

Guest cancellations

Artist Noelle Stevenson (Gingerhaze) and Sherlock Holmes podcasters Baker Street Babes were both stuck with unexpected hotel bills, which caused Stevenson to leave the convention and the Baker Street Babes to threaten legal action.

The organizers say this was due to a clerical error on the part of the hotel, and that they always intended to pay for the guests’ hotel rooms.

Welcome to Night Vale

This is the weirdest section because it includes a string of screencaps from DashCon’s correspondence with WTNV’s writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Considering the flurry of frustrated subtweets from the two writers, it sounds like they had the worst experience of DashCon’s core guests.

To make matters worse, there was an unsubstantiated rumor (originating from a blog claiming to belong to a DashCon volunteer) that WTNV were lying about their side of the story. Fortunately, DashCon’s explanation aligns with Cranor’s earlier statement that WTNV quit the convention because they hadn’t been paid on time.

There are several references to an unnamed third party who is blamed for PR mishaps, including mishandling the correspondence with WTNV and writing the Tumblr post that said the hotel was demanding money because they “didn’t like people at the con.” The press release repeatedly tries to distance convention organizers Megan Eli and Cain Hopkins from DashCon’s organizational problems.

The WTNV audience won’t be refunded (except with that extra hour in the ball pit) thanks to a DashCon policy stating that tickets would not be refunded for any reason.

One Tumblr user is already claiming that this policy was edited on the DashCon website the same day that WTNV pulled out of the convention. We checked the Internet Archive, which shows that an earlier version of the rules says badges would not be refunded. The updated version adds a reference to reserved seats to WTNV also being nonrefundable.

Minors at 18+ panels

One of the most persistent DashCon rumors was that minors were allowed into adult-rated panels. But most first-person accounts from the convention describe 18+ panels having suitable security, and the DashCon press release includes a picture of the armbands that were given to adult attendees. This shows a more responsible attitude toward underage attendees than plenty of established conventions, and is one of the things that seems to have gone right at DashCon.

DashCon 2015

Amazingly, DashCon 2015 is still happening. In their tearful apology on the last night of the convention, one of the admins talked about learning from the mistakes of DashCon 2014. The press release adds, “The backlash has been severe, but we won’t be defeated so easily.”

One of those mistakes was having teenagers organize parts of the convention. In a post from the official Tumblr account, an admin confirmed the accounts from volunteers who said several of the original “committee heads” were teenagers. Happily, “minors will not hold any positions of power moving forward.”

Their Twitter page is now @dashconindy, because DashCon2015 will be held in Indianapolis.

Although we now have a better idea of what went down behind the scenes, this press release is by no means a conclusion to the story. It remains to be seen how many of the disappointed attendees will be able to have their donations refunded by the Saturday cutoff date.

Over the past week, more people have had a chance to post about their own experiences at DashCon. Many describe the convention as a fun, safe environment. However, other complaints have emerged in addition to the more positive posts.

Several artists and stallholders have written about trying to get refunds for the table space they rented for $150 per spot. Aside from concerns about low turnout, the main issue claimed by vendors was that the vendors’ hall was opened at 5am without their being notified, meaning that merchandise was left unguarded for hours.

Each of the vendors describes the same situation: They spoke to DashCon organizer Roxanne Schwieterman about this potential breach of contract, and she allegedly told them she’d make a decision in 30 minutes and then never contacted them again.

Several vendors had to leave the convention early, but one artist describes being handed two $20 bills by a stranger, apparently as compensation for the $300 spent on table space at the convention. Artists and vendors were disappointed by sales, expecting thousands more potential customers than actually showed up. Some also pointed out the rally to raise $17,000 reduced potential spending cash among the attendees who were there.

With DashCon 2015 still in the cards, it looks like next year’s convention will cater to two very different groups: People who had fun at DashCon 2014 and didn’t suffer financially, and people who watched via social media and hope to experience a similar meltdown firsthand.

DashCon’s press release ends on a familiar note: a Paypal donation button.

Photo via emmagrant01/Tumblr