Today, hundreds of people will be arriving for the 17th annual PantheaCon in San Jose, California. It is one of the world’s largest indoor festivals of its kind. Because of it’s location at the DoubleTree hotel and large convention staff, it is also one of the most accommodating for Pagans with disabilities and other health concerns.
My husband and I attended PantheaCon twice when I lived in the Monterey Bay area. We enjoyed the experience immensely. I was impressed by the hard working Gryphons (volunteers) and the availability of fresh water in every hall with activities. Someone was all ways there to adjust the audio or visuals as needed or rearrange chairs to aid participants with a walking aid or wheelchair.
Pagans with disabilities (especially mobility issues) have voiced their concern over accessibility at Pagan festivals. The problems tend to be mainly with outdoor festivals with logistic (rough terrain, primitive restrooms) and programming concerns (workshops that require a lot of walking or standing). Pantheacon and other indoor gatherings are seen as a wonderful step toward inclusiveness. Author Jane Raeburn posted to her blog “As the Pagan community grows and its leaders age, we ARE going to have more people among us with disabilities. There may, indeed, be more than we think already …”
As wonderful as it is to get our dose of ecotherapy, it’s nice to have public indoor space. A place other than a crowded living room or basement. A warm dry place in the winter. If the Pagan community wants more indoor festivals, we’ll need to understand how much time and money is needed to hold indoor events. Our community will need to work and play well together. PantheaCon is an example of such possibilities.
Glenn Turner is the founder and organizer (Ringmaster) of PantheaCon. She was very kind enough to take some time for a quick interview. Glenn let me know that PantheaCon offers ASL (American Sign Language) interpretive services; however, they didn’t have any requests for that this year. It is important for requests to be made early so an interpreter can be secured in time. She did get quite a few personal emails from people with other physical disabilities.
Masery: How many people are expected to attend this year?
Masery: From the Gryphons to the Conference Assistance Team, to the people at registration, how large is the PantheaCon staff?
Glenn: 180 regular staff and about 30 – 40 volunteers.
Masery: How much does it cost to operate such a huge conference? How much of that is facility rental?
Glenn: About $20,000 for hotel rooms for staff and incidentals with about $4,000 for AV, mobile radios for our Conf Assistance Team. The shuttle is about $4000 and is especially good for door to door service from the other hotels as the DoubleTree fills early. The shuttle will be running more often this year.
Masery: From the time one convention ends and the next one begins, how much time does it take to plan PantheaCon?
Glenn: In July we start to revamp the Program event application form and then
we start meeting every 2 weeks with weekly meetings in Oct and Nov. Individual departments do some work before the Con just getting all their groups in contact.
Masery: How long has PantheaCon been held at the DoubleTree Hotel?
Glenn: About 10 years.
Masery: What were the main factors for choosing that facility, other than being
located in San Jose?
Glenn: The location in San Jose is only good for the hotel being near the airport … the DoubleTree [has] many rooms (about 15) for programing. It is also a comfortable setting. With many other good hotels nearby with free parking.
Masery: PantheaCon offers a wide variety of programming from music programs, discussion panels, workshops where people can get comfortable and listen, to fairly relaxed rituals or wild reveries such as the Pombagira. There is
something for every persons taste or ability. How are programs selected and are disabled attendees considered in that process?
Glenn: We hope that disabled people can just be accommodated by the different
groups. Some allow chairs in front when large circles of people are standing. With my hearing disability and my age group 60 -70 I know how much it helps to know I can sit during a ritual if needed or know
that a lecture will be miked so I can hear it with my hearing aids. I often seek out a quiet space, because with hearing aids it amplifies all the conversations around me not just who I’m talking to, so I need
smaller spaces to really have any kind of conversation. Some of the Party rooms and Hospitality suites are more quiet than others, so I
can actually sit and relax in them.
Masery: There is so much power raised at PantheaCon and so many things going on to
choose from. My first time there was very exciting and overwhelming. I’d compare it to a Pagan roller coaster. I often found myself seeking a quiet
spot to sit and ground. Do you have any advice for first time attendees?
Glenn: We have one workshop for learning about Pcon this year on Friday. Otherwise, just go and have fun in our safe haven among like minded people and remember to eat, sleep and to take some time to just breath.
PantheaCon main site www.pantheacon.com/
“How to Get Me to Avoid Your Festival” by Jane Raeburn at Vulcan’s Sister www.janeraeburn.com/wp/2010/10/24/how-to-get-me-to-avoid-your-pagan-festival/
Cara Schulz of the PNC-Minnesota Bureau has put together a video series on permanent sacred spaces. It features Temple of the River and the Sacred Paths Center. pncminnesota.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/sacred-spaces-celtic-temple-part-1/