Pop Culture Classroom partners with more organizations, like the Denver Aquarium, at the new FAN EXPO Denver event, in order to bring new interactive offerings to students.
Convene editors reached out to a handful of organizations to see how they are incorporating lessons learned from the ways the pandemic affected their audiences, stakeholders, and members into their go-forward strategies. This is one in a series of stories from the January/February issue of Convene.
Convene first spoke with the team at Pop Culture Classroom (PCC) in early 2018 — in pandemic years, a lifetime ago. At the time,PCC was the main producer of Denver Comic Con, which attracted more than 100,000 participants each June and served as a way to fundraise for the nonprofit organization, which provides the Denver area with unique educational resources for students that make fun connections to popular culture, such as comic books. PCC was started in 2011 by “a group of self-described nerds who came together out of a shared love for comics and pop culture,” the team told Convene during their first interview. “Its founders believed that the tools of pop culture could be used to help improve literacy among school-aged kids and better engage them, so they developed PCC to create those resources in the classroom.”
Today, a lot has changed for PCC, as it relinquished its role as the main producer of Denver Comic Con. The event, now known as FAN EXPO Denver, was acquired by Informa Connect’s Fan Expo brand in 2021. “That was a really great transitional moment for us, because when we weren’t able to put on the convention in 2020, we didn’t have the income that year, and it made it very difficult to be able to produce the show in 2021,” Emilee Klein, events and sponsorship manager for PCC, recently told Convene.
Educational offerings at FAN EXPO Denver include the Kids’ Lab — a 9,000-square-foot space on the show floor at the Colorado Convention Center that is dedicated to helping teens, kids, and families connect and learn through comics, television, film, and more.
PCC is now the featured charity of the three-day weekend event and receives a portion of ticket sales as a donation. But just as important for the organization is that it continues to run the convention’s educational programming. In fact, the acquisition “really allowed us to grow into really focusing on that educational aspect of our mission and has allowed us to do a lot more,” Klein said. Educational offerings at the convention include the Kids’ Lab — a 9,000-square-foot space on the show floor at the Colorado Convention Center that is dedicated to helping teens, kids, and families connect and learn through comics, television, film, and more — and the All Ages Stage. In 2022, sessions held at the event’s All Ages Stage included “Spider-Man’s Performance of Identity in Politics,” “Tomorrow Maker Studio: Building Your Own Cinematic Universe,” and “Creating Pixel Art.”
According to Klein, by scaling back its production involvement, PCC was able to partner with more organizations than ever before to bring new offerings to the convention. “We had 10 partners in the Kids’ Lab this year,” Klein said. Eight of those partners were organizations PCC hadn’t worked with before, including Dinosaur Ridge, the Denver Aquarium, and the Colorado School of Mines, where graduate students worked on experiments with the 3,500 children who passed through the Kids’ Lab in 2022.
“The turnout and the feedback that we got there was that it was very valuable to the families coming,” Klein said. “The kids were really excited to be able to learn in that way, and they were kind of aware of that — it wasn’t just playing and having fun.”
To Infinity and Beyond
In 2023, PCC plans to work even more closely with the team at FAN EXPO to integrate their programs. “We have a stage at the Kids’ Lab — last year we had Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO [in “Star Wars”] come in and talk. We want to bring in more of those experiences with that educational context, and I know we’re expecting the show this year to be bigger,” Klein said, adding that PCC hopes to expand into a few other FAN EXPO events across the country in the coming years. “We’re taking this year to go and see some shows, do some of our educational programming,” Klein said, “and then in 2024, hopefully bring that bigger experience to these shows.”
Casey Gale is managing editor of Convene.
RELATED: Read the 2018 story about Pop Culture Classroom and Denver Comic Con.