Onezumi Hartstein is an artist and co-founder of Intervention, an annual convention that describes itself as “The Premier Showcase of Online Creativity.” Energetic and hardworking, Oni (as her friends often call her) is extremely passionate about what she does. All Up Together is all for highlighting people and businesses that make this world a better place, so we had a chat with Onezumi about what she’s doing, how she got there, and how she keeps on keeping on….
AUT: You’re perhaps best known for Intervention, the DIY convention you started, but really you’ve been helping people out for a long time, through stuff like meet-ups or even just a few kind words in person. What drives you to help others?
Onezumi: For whatever reason I have always believed in treating others like I’d want to be treated and standing up for what I believe in— even if it came at a cost. I was always the kid in High School standing up for those who were being beaten up or giving what little food I had to someone else who needed it more. When I was a street kid I used to be the person who would jump in and defend the drag queens who were being beaten by random people. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do but doing nothing is absolutely the opposite of my personality.
I think because I grew up in poverty I viscerally understand what it’s like to struggle, to need help, and to need friends. Those less fortunate or struggling aren’t faceless stereotypes to me— I remember how it was. I didn’t have an easy time growing up and those who helped me made a huge difference in my life.
I always tell the story about how Julie Bell was pretty much the only artist at the comicon who took the time to encourage me when I was just a kid. At that point I had mostly given up because my own family only grudgingly accepted that I did artwork. They had no idea they were doing this at the time but my work was constantly dismissed in an attempt to push me into being an engineer or a doctor. The intentions were good but the results were just depression and despondency. Julie Bell looked at my drawings and told me to keep doing what I was doing and that was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
When I began exhibiting at cons myself as an adult I saw kids who were just like me when I was at that fragile age. They were now coming to me. That’s when I realized that art is far more important and resonant than many give it credit for. I guess my own past drives me to help others. I see myself in other people.
AUT: What benefits (social, spiritual, financial, whatever) do you receive from doing stuff like this?
Onezumi: I get to meet a lot of cool people and my drive to make cool things and reach out positively to people has transcended into other aspects of my life— including my day job. Even though my contract has just ended and I am currently looking for work I’ve achieved a higher level than I would have been able to get otherwise. I’m getting interviews that I wouldn’t have normally been able to get without having all of this on my resume.
Because I am always putting myself out there I have gotten much better at talking to people, interviewing, marketing my own work, and handling clients. It’s almost like I created my own real life training for the things I needed to be a professional. I was really shy and closed off before.
AUT: There’s got to be some downsides too, like the initial outlay of cash for something like Intervention, or maybe just feeling emotionally drained sometimes. How do you handle stuff like that, and how does it balance against the benefits you mentioned?
Onezumi: The 4th year is the first year it’s gotten easier to the point where I can breathe a little. I knew going in that I was committing to at least 5 years of hell before the organization congealed and I could hand off big things. When you make any life change not all of your friends are going to get that you no longer have the same type of time to spend doing other things. It challenges your existing relationships at the same time you are making new ones. During this entire time you are managing constant change and dealing with difficult personalities, customer service issues, and the fact that people will not always treat you fairly. If all of this wasn’t enough you have to fight uphill to get people to even try your event out because people tend to stick with things they know, even if they don’t really like it much, than try something that is new and untested. I myself have passed on going to first year events for this reason and after starting Intervention I consciously go toward first year events because I remember our first year.
The financial part of it is also a challenge. I didn’t have any savings but knew that I needed to start Intervention now because I am not getting any younger. I couldn’t pinpoint a timeframe at which I’d be able to easily do so in the future. It was a bizarre case where I carefully thought about it and the risk was both necessary and worth it or I would never do anything. I would never tell anyone that this is easy. I might make it look like that but it is far from the case.
I handle it all by just staying as calm as possible. I now have some really great staff that can help with some things. As tough as this is we seem to be slowly getting from life the same positive stuff we are putting out there.
AUT: Let’s get specific. Tell us about Intervention: what are you trying to accomplish, who is it for, why do you do it?
Onezumi: Intervention is kind of like SXSW but on a grassroots scale. We are aiming for regular people. We do get executives and celebrities at the event, but that’s because what we do applies at all levels. Almost everyone can afford the registration fee. We are a woman-founded event and a safe space for all genders and people.
We are about how everyone can use technology and the internet to make their lives better. Comics, blogs, podcasts, videos, and makers are just the start— we regularly feature people from the community who have innovated and done something cool. We also have a Children’s Track so that the next generation can get in on the fun. After regular hours we have parties and events for the 21+ crowd. You might see people in costume (because that is absolutely creative) or get a chance to get your picture taken in a DeLorean. One attendee described us as “Woodstock for Geeks”. That’s also accurate. We are living up to our motto “The Premier Showcase For Online Creativity”.
Our event is also just about 50/50 male/female and the atmosphere is welcoming. We have a great anti-harassment policy and staff to enforce it to make sure the friendly atmosphere continues as we grow.
AUT: You have done a great job getting sponsors for Intervention. Do these companies “get” the philosophy behind Intervention, are they just looking for decent ROI, or is it a mix? Are you seeing a decent amount of repeat sponsors, and why?
Onezumi: Most of the companies seem to get it. We actually care about how we handle the sponsorship and aren’t just taking their money and running. We also aren’t just taking anyone’s sponsorship because we have to like the company. We are getting a lot of repeat sponsors because of that. We try to throw in extra things to drive visibility for them if we can. I’ve not seen another event handle sponsors as conscientiously as we do yet. I think many like that we are both professional and personable.
AUT: Is there any other stuff you have going on that you’d like to talk about?
Onezumi: Well, I just relaunched my two webcomics at Onezumi.com that I had to stop updating for over a year while I got Intervention off the ground. I also blog about spooky fun stuff, Halloween, and Haunted Attractions at Onezumiverse.com.
Check out Intervention at http://interventioncon.com/