Ariel longed to be human in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” but there’s a community of people who would love to trade places with her and live under the sea. Those kindred spirits attend the California Mermaid Convention, which started as Mermaid Weekend in Sacramento before growing to a full convention in 2019. Presented by two woman-owned entertainment companies, Mermaid and Mom and Pixie Tribe Entertainment, the family-friendly event attracts mermaid enthusiasts, social-media influencers, and professional mermaid entertainers — including models, performers, artists, and photographers.
“We’re a really community-based organization,” said Mermaid and Mom co-founder Rachel Smith, who co-founded the California Mermaid Convention with Ashley Rastad.
The California Mermaid Convention has become a highly interactive event featuring live underwater performances, the Promenade of Mermaids — a nautical-themed parade that has been running for 11 years — river cleanups, and opportunities for kids to swim with the mermaid performers, in addition to panels and workshops.
The pandemic forced Smith and Rastad to either postpone or cancel the 2020 event — or go virtual. “We said, ‘Let’s not take something else away from everyone this year,’” Smith said. “‘Let’s work really hard to make it something that’s fun, and to look forward to.’” And so, with the hashtag “#SHELLterinplaceCMC,” the California Mermaid Convention moved to an online platform and cast a wider net, attracting attendees from across the seas — Ireland, Sweden, Canada, and more.
Going virtual turned out to be a “really, really great thing for us,” Smith said. The event continues to have legs, with ongoing virtual content, like mermaid-themed drawing and dance classes, to keep engaging the global mermaid community.
The convention also hosted two representation panels to promote body positivity and diversity. “Something that we’re really, really cognizant of,” Smith said, “is making the convention super inclusive, and making everyone feel seen and welcome.” Who said mermaids are only half human?
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.