This op-ed to the Bee is in reply to Cal Expo Director Gilbert Albiani’s assertions in the Sacramento Bee, July 23, 2010, A13 ( “Fair has a good grip on business” ):
This was our reply:
It isn’t the Fair that has a “good grip on business” (Sacramento Bee Viewpoints, July 23); it’s business that has a death-grip on the State Fair . Shifting marketing strategies, catchy slogans, face-lifts and maintenance, and more entertainment is about all Cal Expo has left in answer to its sack of excuses for why it is in serious decline. Restating the mission of the State Fair, from which Cal Expo has been drifting for a very long time, remains the hallmark of decades of failed plans and a declining event. Instead of pride and promotion of the best of California and the public mission it was created to serve, Cal Expo (in a recent Sacramento Bee article by Cal Expo Director Gil Albiani) has declared itself a “business” and carnival/entertainment (sometimes sports) complex with some incidental educational venues. Focus groups, surveys, consultancies and sales analysis still seem to hold the undivided attention of an antiquated and myopic Board overwhelming guided by businessmen, carnival operators and developer ambitions. Like a moth around a flame, the specter of selling all or part of the valuable public commons they were entrusted to use looms as the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of their rainbow.
The excuse given, according to Director Albiani is “a down economy” and the worn-out response they offer is a “better carnival” and “unlimited ride-wristbands”. Claims of “cutting edge” programs and “interactive event” that Mr. Albiani cites are little in evidence, neither at the Fair nor in their future plans. All that is really in evidence is a 20th century mindset that refuses to grasp that the people of the 21st century have plenty of entertainment far closer to home and there is little at the State Fair – it’s sales hype, its exhibits or its carnival midways – that is really relevant to 21st century needs and interests. No matter what the economy, discretionary spending is just that, and the people of 21st century California are far smarter and better educated about what they wish to spend their money on. They are not so easily persuaded by carnival barkers and bright lights.
Entertainment is a good thing, and some of that will always be a needed sideshow of the primary mission of a State Fair. But entertainment and carnival is also a fiercely competitive private industry with talent and resources with which Cal Expo could never hope to compete . If Cal Expo wishes to go that way, to concentrate on diversion as its main attraction and to treat Californians primarily as gate-receipts, then it should get out of the ‘state agency’ mode altogether and become just another private business like any other. There’s simply no reason for the State of California to operate an entertainment venue, if that is what the State Fair wishes to (indeed, has) become.
As an “interactive event”, with regards to its planning and development, Cal Expo is a total failure. For decades, it has deliberately excluded meaningful public, let alone statewide, participation or discussion in designing its future. They have made no calls to the public for ideas, nor even distribute news of their development plans and activities to statewide media and press. The CEAV Project, which has presented entirely new concepts for consideration, did not do so because of some invitation from Cal Expo to the public for creative ideas and visions for the next generation State Fair. They did so in reaction to the types of foolish and destructive plans that Cal Expo was, and still is, negotiating with private developers and insider ambitions. It is no accident that Cal Expo’s concepts largely revolve around the developer community and the repeated appearances of the NBA, which has no relation whatsoever to the real mission and standing of the Fair. Nor is it an accident that none of those plans specifically describe the vision of the ‘new’ State Fair itself. Cal Expo, to date, simply hasn’t got one.
On July 30th (Cal Expo, Adm. Bldg, 12:00pm), The CEAV Project will be presenting a radically different approach to Cal Expo’s Operations & Planning Committee. CEAV’s ‘A Movable Fair’ concept (details of which can be read at http://www.stopcalexpo.worpress.com) suggest spreading the wealth and creating vision of a State Fair throughout California by rotating the Fair periodically to various regions and Counties and permitting them to invest the Fair with local creativity, diversity and interest while remaining statewide in scope. In return for creating and operating the State Fair for a time, these local and regional areas would share the wealth and potentials as well.
‘A Movable Fair’ is not a ‘build it’ proposal and the July 30th presentation will not tout a lot of rosy financial projections and theme-park details or parking space descriptions. Instead, it offers a radically different approach to our State Fair design.. It leaves it to a restructured Cal Expo, local Jurisdictions and other experts and advisors from throughout the state to perform the needed analysis and develop plans that might take the Fair to an entirely new level of relevance and prominence in showcasing the best of California.
‘A Movable Fair’ challenges the two assertions made by Mr. Bartosik in the Bee article which serve as the basis of current Cal Expo thinking on the matter: 1) that the fair is [must be] “a gambling business” (“a high stakes operating plan”) ; and 2) “We have only one shot to get it right.” [i.e. it is permanent, fixed design where one-size-fits-all]. Certainly, that is true of Cal Expo’s centralized, single-city plans and operating model. That is the only model Cal Expo has considered up to now. Under ‘A Movable Fair’ each State Fair would be an opportunity for the fair to re-invent itself in another California setting. Instead of a fixed, single-city vision managed from a fixed location, A ‘Movable Fair’ would make every Californian a potential participant in its design as well as its capacity to generate interest. It would turn Mr. Bartosik’s “gamble” into something that could truly evolve and transform with each new appearance and take the ‘gamble’ out of it; giving it many different shots at success from many different places. It remains to be seen whether Cal Expo and its Board with their vision so narrowly focused on ‘the-business-of-carnivals’ can comprehend or act upon such a departure from their traditional notions of a ‘Fair’. For the California Exposition & State Fair, we can only hope so.