The Future of LEGO Shows

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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.

Nathan Flood is LEGO Ambassador and President of LOLUG (Lincoln-Omaha LEGO User Group), one of the largest LUGs in the United States. Each year, LOLUG organizes Brick Days, a LEGO event aimed at both LUG members and the general public. Participation is a key focus of the event and highlights include a play brick area, derby track, mosaic building, graffiti wall, LEGO bingo and castle/pirate themed building area.

How are you gentlemen doing?

Mark: I'm doing about as well as someone who bought a public event business this year can do.

Nathan: I’m good considering the world these days. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to spend time with family a little bit more, as well as build with LEGO.

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?

Mark: We have produced three virtual LEGO fan conventions through Zoom. Each show has had 15-plus virtual rooms where people can enjoy events, such as presentations like Pete Strege's Dome Demonstration, discussions, and presentations from LEGO employees.

Nathan:  LOLUG, the main LUG behind Brick Days, has been very busy. We are currently reworking the train layout. We are cleaning up some of our other creations that were destined to be displayed at our March event. And we are adding in some new activities, including a pirate/castle themed building area for visitors to add onto the display. I think it will be very popular when we are able to start holding events again.

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.

Nathan: It is my hope that things will return to normal in 2021 with the talk of vaccines becoming available. I believe that LEGO events will become more popular than ever. We’ve seen a huge uptick in followers on social media, as so many families and individuals have reconnected with LEGO while in quarantine. So not only will we see an increase in attendance, but also more willingness to participate and display their creations. LEGO Masters was a testament to the interest in LEGO across the nation. The TV show was a major hit with so many people posting about it across social media platforms.

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.

Nathan: AFOLs will continue to do what they do best—build incredible creations! Everyone comes to LEGO events for one reason and that is to see the creations that we have spent hours working on. So, if AFOLs want to help and are coming to Brick Days—keep building!  Inspire those around you with your art!

Finally, because local venues, such as libraries, often host smaller, LUG-run shows, we spoke with the Helen Plum Library in Lombard, IL.

How did the library cope with the shutdown of LEGO shows?

Helen Plum Library: Though we do believe it was the best call for the safety of the community, we were very disappointed that we had to cancel these events. LEGO shows and events are always very popular with patrons of all ages.

How do you think your library will handle future shows?

HPL: As of August, we are unsure when we are going to be able to host in-person events at the library again. When we are able to host events, we probably won’t be able to use shared manipulatives like LEGO as we have in the past with our LEGO Club. For right now, any LEGO show or event would have to be virtual.

How can the AFOL community help their local venues during this time?

HPL: If you create any virtual shows, we would love to know what it might look like. I can’t guarantee it would work, but we are always looking for more ways to engage with patrons and the community during this time.
Even if the days are long and the idea of AFOLs getting together seems far away right now, we here at BB↑ and Windy City LUG remain hopeful towards the future. If we use the brick to create and inspire, if we use it to bring a moment of happiness to ourselves or others, then the future of LEGO shows might be the best it’s ever been!

Images provided by Brickworld, Brick Days, used with permission.

Interviews edited for clarity.