At the beginning of 2020, no one would have predicted that a pandemic would change everything. As people spend more time at home, LEGO is experiencing a massive wave in popularity. Kids and adults alike have used LEGO to pass the time and to express their creativity. Stores are regularly cleared of LEGO sets, and people are building more MOCs (My Own Creations). But one thing that is missing during this unprecedented time is public LEGO shows.
We at Building Builders Up (BB↑) spoke with the people behind some of the biggest LEGO events to find out about the current and future state of LEGO shows. We also asked a library that serves as a venue for local shows about how they’re affected.
Mark Larson is the Chief Brick Officer of Brickworld, one of the largest LEGO conventions in the world. The event includes workshops, presentations, awards, a charity auction, social gatherings, competitions, and more. Although the focus is primarily adult fans, Brickworld has a family atmosphere.
2020 was a year that you would never have imagined and the cancelling of your shows was a very tough blow. Could you please tell us a little about what happened and how you felt?
Mark: Our contract with the venue was specific about the force majeure clause being triggered if the event was unable to happen [but we] had to wait until large gatherings were made illegal under the Governor’s emergency plan. I just bought the business this year so I didn't have the funds to pay the deposits, so it was stressful. There were a lot of long days. In the end, they were very gracious about the circumstances and they let me out of this year's contract and rescheduled it for next year.
Personally, Brickworld is my new Christmas. I spent nine years as a coordinator before purchasing the business from Bryan Bonahoom last year. So, for my first year to be de-railed by a global pandemic and my first Chicago event to be cancelled, it wasn't fun. But this is all outside of my control, so I've been taking it one day at a time. Hopefully, we'll be back on our feet in 2021. If not, we'll get there eventually.
Nathan: The process was working with our partner and watching the current virus climate in the area. While Nebraska never shut down completely, we didn’t feel as though we could provide a fun environment where everyone could enjoy LEGO. We were watching other events in the area and as they cancelled, we felt we should do the same to keep everyone safe.
It was hard to cancel because we all enjoy displaying our creations and having the public react to what we have built. Plus, we always look forward to seeing friends who travel across the country but in the end, we knew it was the right decision.
What have your shows been doing during this time?
Looking towards the future, what do you think LEGO shows will look like when they recommence?
Mark: Hopefully, once large gatherings are allowed, we can operate largely as we did before the pandemic. I won't feel comfortable holding an event until I know we're out of this, and that is likely not going to be until we have widespread vaccinations. Obviously, some of our more popular interactive displays for kids will be cut from our lineup like the LEGO play brick tables and our mosaic wall. We're developing new types of interactive displays that kids and fans can participate in that don't involve the ‘ball-pit’ factor of multiple people touching the same objects throughout the day.
When we do produce a show, it will be in accordance with the health guidelines that exist. We will encourage online sales for some events to reduce our staff's exposure to the general public.
We also plan to continue offering virtual shows and plan to offer a virtual access component to our existing shows. Brickworld strives to be inclusive and accessible to all, so making sure people can continue to connect gives us opportunities to build the Brickworld community in a way we previously haven't been able to.
What do you need from the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) community right now to help you and your shows keep going?
Mark: Love. Just love. I've had several people recommend asking for support and donations to ensure that Brickworld is able to continue into the future, but I've got that under control for the time being. And during an economic crisis for many, I don't want anybody to prioritize Brickworld over their own financial needs. I got a little assistance from SBA Disaster Relief Fund, my husband is working, our mortgage is getting paid every month, there's food on the table, we're good.
Information about our two remaining virtual shows can be found on our website and social media pages. It would be amazing if people could follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
A huge thank you to all the people out there that have been offering support. I truly appreciate and love the LEGO fan community for their giving spirit.
How did the library cope with the shutdown of LEGO shows?
How do you think your library will handle future shows?
How can the AFOL community help their local venues during this time?
Images provided by Brickworld, Brick Days, used with permission.
Interviews edited for clarity.