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INTERVENTION CON 2014: Co-founder Oni Hartstein cultivates D.C. region as geek-rich soil

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ONI HARTSTEIN has already succeeded where many Washington-area festival organizers have failed:

She has stoked the growth of a cultural convention past the five-year mark.

“We are accomplishing exactly what I had hoped — we are empowering the community to realize their dreams through art and tech,” says Hartstein, who, with her partner James Harknell, launched Intervention in suburban Washington a half-dozen years ago.

The New Jersey-based Hartstein and Harknell held Intervention 5 over the weekend at the Hilton Washington D.C. in Rockville, Md., and at this point, “the quality of the event is higher than ever,” says Hartsein, 34, who is creator of the Lovecraftian webcomic Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos.

Hartstein — who studied art at Carnegie Mellon University and Rutgers University — co-founded the convention to foster DIY artists. Comic Riffs caught up with Hartstein to see whether Intervention 5 met her fan-centered metrics of success, and whether there will be an Intervention 6:

MICHAEL CAVNA: Congrats on Year Five of Intervention, Oni — that’s no small feat for a budding Con in a competitive summer for culture. What are some of the crucial lessons about growing your own Con that you’ve learned along the way?

ONI HARTSTEIN: I think the biggest lesson is that we all know each other much better than in the first year. The five-year point is when the staff really starts to gel with events, and that’s exactly what happened here. The quality of the event is higher than ever.

MC: Related to that, a first-year video-gamers conference was held in nearby D.C. this month, and the organizers said they were underwhelmed by drawing only a few thousand — largely because they see the Washington area as a geek-friendly region. What’s your take, five years in? We’ve touched on this before, since you live up the coast, but why Rockville, and why the D.C. area — is it indeed “geek-rich” soil?

OH: Maryland and D.C. are great areas with a lot of potential con-goers. That’s why I do the con here instead of where I live, in New Jersey. However, none of that will take root unless you are involved in the convention community first. Collaborating and tabling at other local conventions is critical in building a new event, in my opinion.

MC: As for this year’s Con specifically, what [were] some of the offerings [that] most excited you?

OH: David Pescovitz from Boing Boing spoke about some fascinating new technology that artists can take advantage of. Our Film Festival had a ton of showings with Q&As that were standing-room-only. We had filmmakers come in and show people how to make their own films, as well.

We had a “Doctor Who” party, followed by a Drink ‘n’ Draw. The entire weekend, the artists were collaborating and creating in the vendors’ room. … Christian Berenek of The Webcomic Factory, and Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance. …

The concept of Intervention being a supportive incubator for all types of art from comics to movies has solidified.

MC: Judging by the programming, you’ve really stayed true to the DIY theme — I particularly appreciate how so much of the event, from book publishing to webcomics to cosplay to video, focuses on helping and encouraging and teaching the solo or grass-roots creator. Can you speak to why that has remained so crucial to you?

OH: It’s a ton of work, but the results are clear. The feedback from those attending has been tremendous. We are accomplishing exactly what I had hoped — we are empowering the community to realize their dreams through art and tech. We do this for those attending. They are our first priority.

MC: You and your partner, James Harknell, seem to have such a huge swath of creative interests. What interests and strengths do you think you most bring to Intervention, and what ones does Harknell most bring?

OH: I am more on the Marketing, Strategy and Talent Development side. Harknell is the Numbers, Tech and event-layout side. He’s more busy at the event fixing technical issues and buying supplies. I am focused on making sure things are tuning properly and people are happy.

MC: What, to you, most defines a “successful” year’s Con? What are the hallmarks?

OH: Simple — are the attendees and guests happy? If yes, it’s a win. I care more about our guests, attendees and staff than I do about the money.

MC: Will there be an Intervention 6? And is there anything you most want to add to the programming?

OH: Yep! We have some things we can’t talk about yet, but I can say we will be adding live music in.

MC: Anything I didn’t ask that I totally should have?

OH: Intervention is not an art/comics convention like you’ve ever experienced before. It’s not about Hollywood or big media. It’s about artists supporting each other and showing off their work. It’s where the pros and the fans can network and discover new things to improve their lives and careers.