KansasFest at Rockhurst


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Those feeling the withdrawal of KansasFest 2017 now have something to look forward to, as the dates and venue for KansasFest 2018 have been announced: the world's largest and longest-running annual Apple II convention returns to Rockhurst University next July 16–22.

There has been much unsolicited, unofficial discourse on the KansasFest email list about whether Rockhurst should remain the venue for KansasFest. Those hoping for a change in 2018 shouldn't be surprised: executing an event like KansasFest takes almost an entire year of preparation, and pivoting to a new venue more quickly than that should occur only when no alternative is available, as when Avila decided to stop hosting KansasFest after 2004.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. For KansasFest 2019 and beyind, there are plenty of compelling opinions about where the event should be held. In the pro-Rockhurst camp:

  • • Rockhurst is exceedingly cheap — only a few hundred dollars for five nights, eleven meals, and conference registration makes it an incredibly affordable vacation.
  • • There are few other retrocomputing conventions where attendees stay right where the event is, making for a 24-hour event. Rockhurst enables this.
  • • The dormitory setting encourages socializing both in lounge areas and in private rooms with open doors.
  • • For the duration of KansasFest, the Corcoran student hall is exclusive to us, without needing to be shared by other guests, students, or events.
  • • After 13 years of hosting us, Rockhurst and KansasFest have developed an amicable working relationship and can anticipate each other's needs and expectations.

Those proposing we move to a hotel make the following points:

  • • Many attendees are at a point in their lives where they can afford nicer accommodations.
  • • A hotel is likely to have a more robust dining menu, accommodating more diverse tastes and diets.
  • • Hotels have larger, more comfortable beds.
  • • Hotel rooms have private bathrooms and showers.
  • • Hotels wouldn't cap attendance at 100 people.

As a former member of the KansasFest committee, I have no weight or authority beyond that of any other attendee. I, like 92 other attendees of KansasFest 2017, am happy to pay my cheap dues and enjoy a week of camaraderie with no responsibilities. If I am able to engage in that spirit of the event, then the trappings matter little.

To that end, it seems moving from Rockhurst wouldn't benefit the event itself, but its creature comforts. I've read no concerns about Rockhurst's ability to host the convention aspect: the presentation hall, the space for Sean's Garage Giveaway, and the Internet bandwidth have all suited our needs, and I've yet to encounter suggestions to the contrary. It's better room and board accommodations that folks want.

But I'm okay with the way things are. Sleeping and eating are two things I don't spend a lot of time doing at KansasFest; they're certainly not why I go. I've lived in college dorms before, and while I'm not nostalgic for those conditions, I can tolerate them for a week.

Rockhurst dormitory in 2006

Rockhurst in 2006. It's even nicer now.

But better accommodations may be more than KansasFest can afford, costing us both money and attendees. It's been said that if you're not turning people away, then you're not charging enough. With KansasFest hitting its attendee cap of 100 in 2017, perhaps we could charge more. But that would reduce the number of people can afford to attend KansasFest, negating the benefit of moving to a venue with no attendance cap.

And besides, do we want more than 100 people attending? I say this not out of elitism, but because I like the intimate scope of KansasFest as it is now. As we approach Dunbar's number, the ability to meet and get to know every attendee diminishes. I prefer quality time with a smaller number of people, which I find harder to achieve with more attendees.

I recall the multiple years of dwindling attendance, with each KansasFest leaving us wondering if it would be the last. It seems impossible that we've quadrupled our numbers since those pessimistic years of just a decade ago. Perhaps we've grown to the point where we've outgrown Rockhurst. From my perspective as an attendee, that doesn't seem the case. I'm happy to continue returning to its familiar campus for as long as the committee decides we should.

  1. Worth noting that, although I was arguing for either staying at Rockhurst, or finding another university that could give us a similar format but with better amenities, I feel that Dunbar's number has already been exceeded by the KansasFest attendance – after all, Dunbar's number doesn't just include KFest itself, but rather everyone that a person maintains relationships with both inside and outside of KFest.

    Basically, when I came to KFest for the first time in 2010, the event was far more intimate than it was in more recent years – you had to actively avoid people to not spend time with them. 2017, though, you already have groups within KFest that people move between, rather than the group that is KFest.

    At this point, I feel like building capacity is the main limiting factor for KFest's intimacy – however many people we can fit into the Corcoran dorms, we wouldn't lose intimacy. If we had to expand to, say, Xavier-Loyola or McGee for overflow, though, those people would be somewhat excluded from the event, as not many people would go over to that building to walk the halls. (As I understand it, the Corcoran basement is the current limiting factor for attendance, though. It certainly wasn't dorm rooms, as the third floor, especially the loud side, was pretty sparsely populated. But, as I suggested on the mailing list, moving large events like the keynote to another venue on campus could alleviate that constraint – other than the keynote and your pizza party, the basement had plenty of space available.)