A chat with Uncle Kage about Anthrocon’s amazing achievements in 2015.
by Patch O'Furr
This year, it seems like more great press attention went to Anthrocon than ever before. Take a look! (Here’s everything I could find in July.)
Why was there rising attention? One of the big reasons was the fursuit parade. For the first time in an almost two-decade history, the con took an amazing spectacle seen in private out to a public street. A lot of the locals must wonder what goes on behind the doors of the con. Getting to see it drew an enthusiastic crowd of “normals” almost as large as the convention itself. Apart from the furry/crowd interaction, this was a big deal because of all the logistics and relationship building behind the scenes. It promises great things to come.
As the con happened, I posted an article about the world-renowned, anthropomorphic sculpture-making of Mardi Gras float builders in New Orleans. I imagined what floats would be like in a Furry parade. (That’s a step above BEING the parade. I estimate it had over $3 million of fursuits this year. That’s huge show value!) After the con was over, I heard that con Chair Uncle Kage made comments about the same idea of floats.
(Patch): I’ve heard you described as ushering furries towards the kind of acceptance that Comic Con achieved. Do you think that’s accurate?
(Kage): I suppose it is. I am not sure it’s entirely accurate to say that I am “ushering” anyone. I am simply trying to point out the wonderful aspects of our community that many people either don’t know, or don’t seem to “get.”
(Patch): As far as I can tell, AC’s relationship with Pittsburgh seems to have never been this good. The mayor put a welcome letter in the con book. Can you tell us how it stands, and any stories from behind the scenes of relating with the city?
(Kage): We have an excellent relationship with the city, and while it is strictly business, we still have a degree of trust with one another. Pittsburgh knows that I have the city’s best interest in mind, and I know that Pittsburgh keeps Anthrocon’s best interest in mind. In general, I do not ask for much, so when I need something the city is willing to help provide it; conversely, if there is something that Pittsburgh wants, I will do my best to make it happen for them. I communicate frequently with city representatives and we trade ideas on promotion and how to involve the public.
(Patch): I’m curious about the planning to put the parade on a public street for the first time. It seemed like a huge success with 5000 watchers, and coverage on NPR. Is this a standout moment that might define furry for a while to come?
(Kage): It was quite a monumental effort. It actually started three years ago with the idea of taking the parade outdoors so that the people of Pittsburgh could share in it. I did not like having to ask someone to buy a badge just to see the parade, which is the greatest spectacle Anthrocon has to offer. Since Pittsburgh has been so good to us, we wanted to give them something back.
There were plenty of obstacles to overcome, though. First, we had to consider how the outdoor heat would affect the fursuiters. And what to do if it rained? We solved both problems by keeping the bulk of the parade under the convention center, where it is sheltered from the rain and the water feature cools the air. Then we had to figure out how to light that area up, since it’s rather dark and gloomy and not at all good for photos. Then we had to decide on a route that would maximize exposure to people but not cause any trip hazards, make the parade double back on itself, etc. THEN we had to consider the cost: lighting rental, electricity, permits, street closures, costs for traffic control and barricades and everything. It took three years before we had all of it worked out and had the budget for it, and even then, we were not totally sure that it would work.
The city was great, though. They advertised for us. They handled all of the media. They even came up with the yellow “Pittsburgh loves Anthrocon” signs that they handed out for free to the crowd. The original design was Pittsburgh – pawprint icon – Anthrocon. I told them to make it a heart with a pawprint in it, because among furries, that would be read as “Pittsburgh paws Anthrocon” which….well….would subtly change the meaning.
(Patch): Many movements have finite life spans. They break out, flourish for a while, then get old and played out. Some come back with a neo-version in the future. Do you forsee any ways that furry may jump the shark? Or do you sense that it stands apart from trends to keep thriving on it’s own terms?
(Kage): I can see a few ways, but for a variety of reasons I’d rather not bring them up. I’m content to just see how big a phenomenon it can become. It has been growing wildly since its inception and right now we do not see it leveling off, so we’ll simply enjoy it while we can.