Highlights of the 1999 IPMS/USA Nationals
At the 1999 IPMS/USA Nationals, we saw more of the same as we've seen in the past years. The trends are pointing at the event becoming more sophisticated and important to the scale modeling industry, but it will take some evolution to really reach its potential as a centerpiece of the hobby.
Fantastic models have become the norm, with the level of quality reaching the point where masterpieces are not the exception but the rule. The vendor area was filled with new resin, decals, new kits and other modeling products from manufacturers small and large; the number of vendors selling off garages-full of old models seems to be dwindling.
The highlights of my all-too-brief time in the vendor room were the test shots of Kendall's 1:72 727-200, build-ups of Accurate Miniatures' 1:48 B-25 family, Black Box's spectacular 1:48 A-6E resin interior, AeroMaster's colorful and comprehensive 1:48 405th Fighter Group decals, and Cobra Co.'s 1:72 F8F Bearcat interior. There were plenty of new resin ship kits and armor accessories too, but "the world's biggest hobby shop" forces you to focus on your area of interest!
The models were also exceptional. There are simply too many to list; the most impressive were often not the category winners but the models built into little jewels from rough kits. If you think a KP MiG-17 or an MPM XF-85 is unbuildable, you need to go to the nationals. You'll see that nothing is impossible, as long as you possess patience and determination (and, perhaps, a bit of styrene strip and wire!). The display room is a barometer of how our hobby is doing, I think; this year, it's doing quite well.
The future of the IPMS/USA nationals, on the other hand, is an uncertain thing. The event is too big to be a small convention and too small to be a big convention, a condition that puts it in an uncertain bargaining position with venues. Furthermore, there are only a few places left in the U.S. that have venues large enough to host the event but inexpensive enough to make sure it breaks even. This fact, coupled with the way the events are handed off to host chapters, means that perhaps 15 local chapters around the U.S. will be saddled with the responsibility of organizing these events. As the chairman of the 1998 nationals, I can testify to the vast scale of such a task. It was a life-changing experience, one that strained some friendships and strengthened others, which forced our members to work a second, unpaid full-time job for more than a year, and which left our group utterly exhausted when it was all over.
The IPMS/USA needs to take a more significant role in putting this event on. It needs to research which cities have the facilities to host the event, which clubs in those cities are capable enough to host the event, and then make proactive efforts to recruit these clubs and help with their bids. One good idea I heard in Orlando was the idea of the IPMS standardizing its awards and buying several years' worth at a time, thus reducing the price per unit to the hosts. There is also a need for the organization to institutionalize the knowledge developed by each show; as it is now, each host chapter is an island, with little guidance from above. I have head organizers from four different events complain about having to "re-invent the wheel," which indicates that some formalized guide to putting a nationals on is needed. Remember, these volunteers are not professional events planners, but they are putting on a professional-sized show.
Eventually, the IPMS will have to take over the operation of the nationals. This idea no doubt terrifies current members of the e-board, but several of the candidates for the next slate have organized nationals within the last three years. Clearly, the repository of knowledge for putting this event on lies with the IPMS itself; that knowledge can more efficiently be used by the IPMS to stage the show than by a local club that has fewer financial and informational resources.
That said, the people who truly hold the event's future in their hands are the modelers themselves. Only with increased participation will the event grow beyond what it is today. If you really value your hobby, make the nationals a priority and plan for it. Even if you can't afford the goodies in the vendor room, the display room--and more so, the people you will meet--will inspire and rejuvenate you to return home and make the most of the resources you have to work with. You will learn a lot about your hobby, about where you stand and about where you want to go.
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