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strange_doings ([personal profile] strange_doings) wrote2015-03-29 02:29 pm
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Madison Area Costuming Society: an article

I've been asked to write an article about the community outreach events MACS has been doing, for the ICG newsletter. It's easier for me to compose in blog form than in OpenOffice (guh) so forgive the random deviation.

Over the past year, the Madison Area Costuming Society (MACS) has been given a number of opportunities to raise our profile awareness within the city of Madison, both inside and outside fandom-community circles. As a chapter, we have always had something of a presence at Geek-kon and have been instrumental in building its masquerade to be the best in the state - a destination masquerade for talented costumers - as well as providing at least half a dozen costuming-related panels every convention. Yet, the wish was always there to do more than just convention work. At last, we've made some steps into the wider world, through our relationship with Geekplastiq, connections at the Middleton Library, and the Madison St. Patrick's Day Parade.

When Geekplastiq opened a couple of years ago, I went to Simon to strike up a cooperation between our businesses, and MACS came up. He was extremely interested in a club or guild for costume-lovers, and wanted to do whatever he could to help us out. We've kept promotional material in his store, and he has asked MACS for help whenever he wanted folks in costume to add a little color to his store events. For their grand opening at the new location, we came out in our splashiest outfits and stood by the street to wave at cars. Since then, we've also been asked to host Halloween costume events at the store, and recently the idea has been floated to do non-Halloween cosplay events, in order to bring more attention to MACS itself rather than the store. Simon loves to look at costumes and even cosplays himself once in a while, and his encouragement has helped us to branch out and seek other opportunities.

Last July, I was contacted by someone from the Middleton Library who had picked up a card at Geekplastiq, wondering if someone would like to come and do a talk about cosplay at an event they were holding. They have a teen group at the library, and host events for the kids to learn about things related to their reading interests. It turns out most of the kids are big into manga and all things Japanese, so the library decided to host a "con" as an event one evening, with a manga-swap and games to tie in with it. Being as "cosplay" is a word in the greater societal lexicon, now, and most of the kids had heard it via TV or online articles, they were really curious and wanted experts in to explain the phenomenon. Three of us from MACS attended the library event, dubbed "LibCon," and provided an hour-long talk with Q&A. We had a room full of kids, at least 30, sitting with rapt attention for the entirety of that hour, and they wanted to go longer and ask more questions. We explained that cosplay is just dressing up in costumes at conventions, and a little of the history behind it going back to 1939. We assured them that at their age they can easily start learning how to make costumes themselves, plus provided advice for a few youngsters who were afraid their parents wouldn't understand if they wanted to get into this hobby. We encouraged them, and said they could tell their parents that many adult cosplayers are professionals - doctors, lawyers, teachers, and so on - and they were in fact talking to a small-business owner, a scientist, and a city administrator right there! They were extremely receptive and more interested in asking about social and theoretical interests than actual hands-on how-to topics. The library staff was just as fascinated, and asked that if they wanted to host a similar event in the future, would we like to come back? Of course, we will!

This spring, MACS decided to take an even bigger jump forward into the community at large by entering the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Here in Madison, there has been a long-standing parade run by a volunteer committee rather than the city, and it has always been a place for the local Irish families to gather and show off once a year. A lot of non-profit community groups also march in the parade to raise awareness; for example, this year the Autism Society, Veterans for Peace, and the St. Baldrick's Foundation fielded marchers, and the Historical Society, the Children's Museum, and the Overture Center were sponsors. All proceeds from the parade and its events go to the Cancer Center at the UW-Hospital and other children's charities. MACS joined with a small group, about 10 marchers with our banner and the Costume-Con 34 banner, and had an awesome time. The weather was beyond fine for Wisconsin in March, and we attracted a lot of attention from the kids lining the parade route, excited to get candy from characters they recognize. Based on the turnout, we have decided to make this an annual tradition, and look forward to creating costumes to fit the holiday for the next outing.

As a chapter, we feel that community outreach doesn't always have to mean holding workshops and teaching people to sew. An organization like ours is a member of a community, and in Madison, that community is often what provides heart and soul to events. In the future, besides the St. Pat's parade, we may look into other parades (4th of July, Willy Street Festival, etc), and are already forming a relationship with someone who would like to start a sub-organization to provide costumed characters to visit the Children's Hospital. We would also like to provide more educational opportunities like LibCon, and hope to work with Geekplastiq to find meeting space to hold public workshops and lectures. Day to day and month to month, MACS is still a group of friends who love costumes and get together to talk shop, but we've taken a big step beyond that as a chapter and as an organization, to entertain as well as educate, to break out of the rut of merely going to conventions and try something new.

Photos from the St. Patrick's Day Parade can be found on their Facebook, at