AnimeChicago’s Spotlight interview series highlights local organization leaders, artists and personalities. We’re chatting with Jenn Gedonius, founder of Japanese Anime People of Chicago, a local independent anime club established in 2000.
AC: What inspired you to create an anime club?
JG: I remember coming up with the idea one October night back in 2000, when a few friends and I got together to watch some anime at my apartment. We all talked about how there were so many people that were anime fans in the city, but had no way to connect with one another or know about events other than word of mouth. Sure, there were the clubs at local colleges, but working adults (I was 24 at the time) who did not attend a college or university were out of luck. I wanted to create a community, aside from the college clubs; a community so that older fans that would otherwise not know each other could connect, find new friends, and feel they were not alone in this big city. We wanted to create a community atmosphere similar to what we experienced at Anime Central, but with a local focus. So, on the following Monday October 23, 2000, the Yahoo® Group® “JAPC” was born.
AC: Can you describe Chicago’s anime scene at the time of founding JAPC?
JG: There was no sense of community or major source of information other than blurbs on various mailing lists. People simply sat in their homes and watched anime, and didn’t feel that their hobby was something that they could share with others. Anime was just coming into the mainstream media then, and more people were being exposed to it via cable networks. There were no anime screenings at theaters, there was no real connection with local anime fans other than Anime Central, which was in its 3rd year at that time. At that time, Anime Central was still being held in Arlington Heights, which was difficult for so many of us in the city without cars to attend. There were not many fan groups that met up and announced it publicly, like there are today.
AC: How many founding members did you have and how did you grow membership?
JG: When I first started the Yahoo Group mailing list in October 2000, we had several “founding” members, some of which are in contact with us still today. Some of the founding members have been unable to actively participate because they either had a major life change (like starting a family) or moved away, or have a job now that prevents them from attending meetings and functions.
It took little to attract members at that time. After about a week or two, just by word of mouth on various mailing lists and message boards, we had over 2000 people subscribed to the Mailing list. I was overwhelmed by the response!
AC: How do you encourage camaraderie given the club is city-wide, opposed to the standard academic setting?
JG: I encourage members to look at this club like they would any social circle, or group of friends. The more you put into to it, or work to foster the relationship, the more you will get out of it. We always are here when you need us, if you choose to call upon us. I consider every member in as a part of a big family, and in the years have met some great people and sustained some really amazing friendships. I like to focus on the social interaction of members outside of club functions as well. I believe that only so much can be accomplished within a club function as far as personal connections are concerned. People like to interact with others on a deeper social level at times (or have similar interests), and a few hours in a room in a group setting does not always accomplish that. I encourage members to exchange contact info with others, so that they can find new friends that share other fandoms, interests, and activities beyond anime and manga.
AC: What has been the biggest challenge as president to date? How did you overcome it?
JG: There are quite a few challenges that I face as President, so it’s difficult to pick just one.
Of course there is always the endless search for an appropriate meeting venue that can host our growing membership, but more importantly, it’s keeping members interested in the group keeping that disadvantage in mind.
Keeping people interested in the group, and trying to have them take an active part in the planning and coordination has always been a struggle. It’s easy for folks to join a group, and they often expect all these events and things to “just happen,” but I have found they generally don’t want to put forth an effort to actively plan the events or functions. I have been fortunate to have a few dedicated people over the years to help me with this (such as hosting events), but over the years I have been responsible for the majority of the planning. There is honestly no magic answer to this is and no one solution is best for every situation. Keep in mind that anime fans have more diverse interests, so I try to host gaming days, Drama Days, and other events that cater to the diverse interests of our membership. It’s worked for the most part.
AC: Do you have a favorite memory, era, or experiment of JAPC?
JG: There are multiple spans of time that stand out for me, but if I absolutely had to choose one, it would be the first year we (members of the club) all attended Anime Central, back in 2001. It was such a feeling of camaraderie for the first time in an otherwise isolated and divided community. I stayed at the hotel that year (they were out in Arlington Heights then), and all 3 days I met with about 100 local people (most of which were members) over the span of the weekend. It was overwhelming. It was also that year that I felt that I was a part of something way bigger than first anticipated, and that my humble club might actually make a difference in the community, and inspire others to start their own clubs and endeavors.
AC: What advice would you give someone starting their own club?
JG: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be open to new ideas. If something does not work, then try something else. Or if it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it. Don’t get stressed over every detail. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t be afraid to seek out help from other clubs or organizations. Although you may sometimes feel that being in charge of a club’s operations is a thankless job, the reward is when you see the difference you can make in uniting a community.