The Raksura Colony Tree – Looking Back

How is it October already? It seems that I was just leaving the Warehouse at Point Square for the last time after a very busy Worldcon. But somehow enough time has passed that I think I can write about my experiences initiating and running the Raksura Colony Tree project. So here’s the story from idea to realisation and beyond. Hopefully it will be useful to others with similar ideas.

The Idea Stage

I must have come up with the fledgling idea that became the Raksura Colony Tree after the 2018 Hugo nominations were published. I knew I was going to Dublin and that I wanted to do something along the lines of the Hyperbolic Crochet project I ran in Helsinki in 2017. Sometime after finding out that The Books of the Raksura were nominated for a Best Series Hugo, my love of Martha Wells’ worldbuilding and for creating organic forms using all kinds of fiber crafts collided to form an idea of sorts. I was probably excited about the possibilities as well as scared what others would think about it – sharing ideas with the world is always hard! My first written notes are from July 2018, and I think I managed to meet up with a friend and share my rough idea sometime in September. Her enthusiasm and offer of help encouraged me to actually write things up into a formal proposal. Reading through that document right now I’m impressed how close to the original vision this turned out.

At the same time I finally volunteered for Dublin 2019 for the position of Displays Deputy Area Head and consequently ended up being responsible for this project from both sides of the coin – as the initiator and driver for the creative side as well as the convention staffer responsible for all the organizational details. This made things both easier (one less person involved in the communication chain) as well as harder (more work to do for me). Getting the proposal approved took a bit longer, since at that point in time we had a serious space problem within Exhibits. It was only with the addition of Point Square as Dublin 2019’s Creative Hub and the Warehouse as additional Exhibits space that we could move forward with this.

Planning and Promoting

I knew from the start that this was going to be much more ambitious than the Hyperbolic Crochet in Helsinki, and that if I wanted the project to be successful I needed to promote it and build a community pre-convention. This blog was started with that aim in mind, the first post being from January 2019. In parallel, I started a Ravelry group, which turned out a good choice for community involvement and participation for an almost exclusively fiber-oriented project.

Next step: let the right people know about the project! I wrote a short text, accompanied by a picture for use in Dublin 2019’s social media channels, and the social media team did a brilliant job getting the word out. I also wrote a post about community art projects for the Dublin 2019 blog, which went live in April. There were notes in progress reports as well as in a member newsletter. Even if at times it felt as if nothing was happening, people kept finding the blog and the Ravelry group, and slowly a community started to emerge.

Bonus effect: we were linked from File770 in early March (point 16 at the link), and from there Martha Wells found out about the project. Seeing the author of the books you’re making fan art for being excited about this was a major source of motivation to keep pushing this as far as it would go.

Building the Model

I knew from the beginning that this was going to be the weakest point in my plan. I tend to work in fiber and fabric, after all, and this model needed something stronger than that as a skeleton. This is the part I would have preferred not to have to do. Having somebody reasonably local to the convention make and transport the bulky stuff would have made my life so much easier! But nobody volunteered, and I didn’t know the right people to twist a few arms, so the model ended up being my job after all.

Backdrop for Model

I found a light and sturdy material in the 2.5cm-thick corrugated cardboard sheets my local art shop carries, and I’m still happy with that choice for an ephemeral project like this. It was easy to cut reasonably precisely, and didn’t mind being assembled and disassembled a few times in the process. It was showing signs of wear at the end, though. Making the covering for the model was more to my speed again, and pretty soon I had something that looked pretty good:

Model, covered, with platforms

Next problem: the model was more than a 1000 kilometres and some pesky bits of water away from where it was actually needed. And some of its pieces were pretty big, if not heavy. Enter the box:

box4

Getting it to the post office was an adventure, and the dimensions of the box were pretty much hitting the limits DHL will transport without extortionate prices. I paid a little more than 30 Euros to get it to Dublin, which after unsuccessfully trying to get it back afterwards turns out to have been a steal.

Getting some Sponsoring

A project like this is way more fun if you have plenty of materials and tools for people to work with. I donated lots of my own stash and asked people to bring their bits and pieces of leftover yarn, but in this case more is definitely better. With that in mind I approached all the local yarn shops I could find (all four of them) by email and asked for their support. Asking for things from strangers is not an easy thing for me to do, and I spent quite some time crafting that email. In case it’s useful for anyone attempting something similar, here’s the email text for the sponsorship proposal. It took a while before I got an answer, but Dublin yarn shop This is Knit ended up supporting us heavily. Here’s what I carried out of the shop for us to use:

20190812_154014.jpg

Lesson to myself: Asking never hurts, and it can pay off big time!

Moving Into the Warehouse

Wednesday was move-in day for Displays at the Warehouse. Getting the Raksura Colony Tree up and running was only one of the things that needed doing, but I did have help here as well as in the other areas I was responsible for. Let’s talk about the space for this project, though. I knew I needed the following elements:

  • Plenty of tablespace and lots of chairs for people to work on
  • Storage space – some kind of shelving
  • Space for setting up the model against a wall
  • an additional table to store components for the model
  • boxes to put materials in so we could be at least somewhat organized

The tables and the setup for the model are well documented in the various picture sets I posted already. I have just one picture of part of the shelving setup, thanks to convention photographer Anna Stefankova:

Shelving for Raksura Colony Tree project

We used cardboard boxes and paper bags to store materials in, the shelving itself was the cheapest stuff available – not very sturdy, but sufficient for the 5 days of the con. To keep the materials sorted I had prepared a set of signs (4 A6 signs to an A4 sheet of paper). Here’s the table with the components and a better view of some of the signs:

all the components!

Also in that picture: some of the ribbons everybody who participated in the project got.

A word regarding the tablecloths: They did look pretty for about 5 minutes, but turned out to be way too flimsy to survive the convention unscathed, because just touching one with a fingernail tore a hole in it. Lesson learned: be careful when ordering online that you know exactly what you’ll get.

All in all, our setup turned out to be pretty good for what it was intended for.

The Convention

The space I prepared was available to convention members during the convention whenever the Warehouse was open. In order to help new people to find out what this was all about and to have times when I would definitely be available for questions, I offered three introductory workshops Thursday through Saturday. I ran those as regular 1-hour programme slots, and while a shorter timeframe would have been sufficient – I ended up talking for about 10 minutes and then everyone was creating things with minimal input from me – I think the format worked well. For the times when I wasn’t there, I had prepared some printouts with background information and basic instructions. Those were printed out and laminated and laid out on the worktable. Here they are for posterity:

For the last day of the convention, I had scheduled another workshop for putting everything together and to make sure everything was finished, and a celebration as an opportunity for everyone to see the model in its finished state and to celebrate our achievement. 20190819_123446.jpg

Clean-up and Move-out

All too soon, the Dublin 2019 Worldcon was over, and I was left in a quiet Warehouse with the task of moving everything out that we moved in just a few days before. This was the part that could have used more planning and preparation – basically, I never got around to thinking about it before the con, and I wasn’t in any state to make good and informed decisions at the moment when I got huge parts of the Warehouse to clean out in just a few hours.

After the celebration everybody who wanted could take the pieces they contributed to take home with them. I packed up most of the leftover wool to go to a local charity that makes items for people in need. Then I took the model apart and packed pretty much everything else into the big box of doom to be taken to the convention’s offsite storage facility for the moment. Which got the problem out of my way for that day and the rest of my vacation. I still don’t have the contents of that box back home, since it turns out that there’s a strong asymmetry in the cost of shipping – it’s impossible to get something that size shipped from Ireland to Germany without paying through your nose. We’re going to ship a much smaller box with the important bits and pieces in it, and the cardboard pieces which made the size so problematic have been discarded – this is one of the decisions I wasn’t able to make at move-out, which should have been made much earlier.

Conclusion

This was a fun project, and it went much better than I ever dared to hope for. But it also is a nontrivial amount of work with lots of things to think about beforehand. Since this article now runs to almost 2000 words, I’ll post a much shorter one with just the lessons learned for anyone wanting to do something similar soon.

 

 

One thought on “The Raksura Colony Tree – Looking Back

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Running a Community Art Project – The Raksura Colony Tree

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