An army of unpaid volunteers are at the heart of Dragon Con

Sep 3, 2013

It takes an army: an army of unpaid volunteers, who are at the heart of what makes Dragon Con a success each year.  

57,000 people attended the science fiction and fantasy convention Dragon Con in downtown Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. It’s staffed by over 1,800 volunteers who put in anywhere from 25 to 80 or more hours of work during the convention.  

Dragon Con attendees crowd in the Marriott Marquis.
Credit Aleck Ragsdale

40-year-old Thomas Kerns volunteered at Dragon Con for half his life. He spent 17 of those years as director of Technical Operations, overseeing a volunteer staff of 400. He just retired from volunteering and it’s his first year as a regular attendee.

"110 hours was what I would normally clock. Seeing the people enjoy the show, seeing that what we do is what brings the smiles to their faces, that was payment for us".

The estimated 57,000 people who attend the convention pay $50 to $150 for their passes. Kearns says the five Dragon Con co-owners and their office staff are the only people who receive a paycheck from Dragon Con, though the payment to the co-owners is termed a dividend share. Additional revenue is reinvested into the convention each year to grow it further.

“It was all volunteer. There are only like three paid positions in Dragon Con and that is the office workers. Every single person who works at Dragon Con is a volunteer all the way up to the Director level that I did, and it was almost a full time job for me year-round”.

Thomas Kerns, former director of Dragon Con Technical Operations for 17 years.
Credit Aleck Ragsdale

Twenty-nine year-old Jessica Merriman has been the director of animation programming at Dragon Con for the past 7 years. She expressed the same sentiment that every volunteer WABE spoke with had; volunteers do it because of a sense of family and comradery they get in this unique environment that is Dragon Con.

“It’s a community thing. I know a whole lot of people here and I feel very connected. This is my life. This is my social circle. This is what I do”.

And these dedicated volunteers will be doing it all again next year so that everyone else can have a good time.