The head of the company behind The Steampunk World’s Fair stepped down in the face of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and morally questionable business practices. Since then, the public has received a torrent of conflicting information about this beloved weekend-long convention. After a brief stint as “Just Magical Events,” some former members of the now defunct Jeff Mach Events formed the Silver Phoenix Society (SPS). This non-profit had previously stated that they would be taking over the convention.
However, SPS announced last week they could acquire the rights to the intellectual property of The Steampunk World’s Fair, but not the contracts for the current year. SPS tried to end their involvement with the project due to hostile public opinion at their continued association with Mach. But it appears that the hotels scheduled to host the event are holding Mach to his contracts.
SPS board member Michael Whitehouse made his definitive announcement on March 13th. He also confusingly called for 72 hours of patience, as unidentified ‘members of the community’ were attempting to pick up the dropped torch on the May event. Now that the time has elapsed, it has become clear that this patience was asked of guests attempting to cancel their hotel reservations. 72 hours was the grace period in which they would have been allowed a full refund. As the holder of the event contracts would be financially liable for each empty room reserved for SPWF, it is presumed that Mach himself is the unidentified ‘member of the community.’ At the moment, he is the only one authorized to fulfill those contracts.
It is still unclear whether or not the Silver Phoenix Society will play a role in the upcoming event. To date, they have been the only source to publish information regarding it. It is now tentatively entitled ‘The End of The Steampunk World’s Fair’ and is being publicized as a ‘small scale vendor bazaar with some performers.’ Although SPS is offering refunds for all tickets purchased between their acquisition of the event and the present, tickets sales and vendor fees paid to Jeff Mach Events won’t be refunded.
However, SPS is offering to honor tickets and vendor fees from the Fair for their ‘Silver Clockwork Steampunk Exposition and Symposium’ which will take place at an as yet unspecified time and location. In addition, Victor & The Bully, a popular British band who were scheduled to play at this year’s Fair, have reported that the SPS have reimbursed them for their travel expenses.
A State of Flux
Considering information from SPS has been intermittent and contradictory, it is not surprising that their staff seems to be in a similarly constant state of flux. For a short time, the former political PR specialist, Alexi Vandenberg, was contracted to coach the company in spinning a more positive public image. However, Vandenberg soon quit in frustration with the disorganized board. It was to be only the first of subsequent embarrassing developments for the fledgling organization, as leaks of internal conversations came out. Disgruntled but anonymous associates posted information highlighting the seemingly casual attitude of some board members concerning the safety and privacy of Mach’s alleged victims. Many have responded in ire via social media, holding SPS members accountable for their opinions and conflicting public statements.
Public opinion has been so disapproving that it has already driven two more resignations from the Society. Former board members Ken Briodagh announced he was stepping down. And soon after his appearance as the SPS frontman, Michael Whitehouse himself has also left the organization. Whitehouse was invlolved in the chat log discussing Mach’s morally ambiguous practices and has left organisations where complaints of coercion were leveled against him, details of which can be read here. We also emailed Michael on February 10th to give him the opportunity to put his side of the story across. We never received a reply.
A Ray of Hope?
Despite all of the ugliness associated with these confusing goings-on, there has been remarkable support for those wronged by event staff. Many are making efforts to provide alternatives for those who were depending on their earnings at the Fair. Former Fair-goers are promising to boycott the final event, ensuring that the community’s response to Mach’s alleged actions will deter any similar mistreatment. The Key City Steampunk Festival is offering a ‘Benefit Bazaar’ in Frederick, MD free of charge for the vendors affected by the cancellation.
Others are doing their part to publicize the affected vendors through social media. Fellow Steampunk Journal contributor Victoria Szulc has an article coming this week with her recommendations for alternative events. Check back for soon for more info.
Attendance at the End of the Steampunk World’s Fair
Although it appears that Jeff Mach will be throwing one last Steampunk World’s Fair to end them all, who knows who will go? Wicked Fair, which took place in mid-February, was reportedly poorly attended after threats of protests and arson were made against the company. Only time will tell if the Silver Phoenix Society can rekindle this event from its ashes.
The steampunk community would certainly be grateful for an event in this area. Many have fond memories of Fairs gone by. However, after such distressing allegations have been brought to light, we will certainly not continue to tolerate such harmful practices within the community.
I want to give special thanks to Brenna Kali Skrirata of the Owl Eye View Blog. She’s kept meticulous records of these events and continually fighting for the justice and safety of the victims. I would also like to thank Eric Fisk, Phoebe Darqueling, and Matt Grayson for their shared research and integral input.