Sunday, September 9, 2012

L.A County Fair ala 2012

As a 66 year old, I am no stranger to the county fair. The first one I remember was when I was around 5 or 6 in Oregon. I remember what seemed like miles of animals...cows and pigs, goats and sheep, chickens and rabbits and so much more. The highlight would be to milk a cow. There was a fun zone of course and rides but the emphasis was on farms and the produce that they produced for us city slickers. Like California, Oregon was and still is an important agricultural state.

I went to the L.A. County Fair yesterday and it was a very different experience. We noticed last year there was a paucity of animals and speaking to one of the stock hands was told the judging was done before the fair opened and what we were looking at hadn't been loaded yet. What we asked? I thought this was the county fair. What is a fair without animals?

The fair this year seems to be trying to reinvent itself and from I have seen and heard, its not going very well. Friends went on opening day and were told (online of course) that you could get in for $1 from 1 to 3 p.m. When they got there are 1 p.m. they were surprised the parking lot was empty. There were lots of buses bringing kids and seniors who were milling about in the sun. It turned out the fair didn't open until 3 p.m. My friend, being a cantankerous sort, went hunting down someone in charge asking for an explanation. He was given the runaround of course and in a manner that is all too popular today, they blamed someone else. It was the fault of marketing, the web people, anyone but who ran the show. Oh, and it turned out the $1 entrance fee was for the entire Labor Day weekend. I'd say a few heads should roll.

This year was the fair's 90th anniversary. Ninety years! You'd think they would have it down. Guess not. We bought tickets at the local super market for a discounted price and then had to stand in the same line as those just buying their tickets at the fair to get the "real" tickets. And, while they announced you can get the App at the Apple or Android store, it really didn't do much more than the printed map you were given at the entrance. And the map was definitely bigger and easier to read than trying to read a smart phones screen!

We came in through the Blue gate, right by the animal barn. Well, what can I say? There were three pigs and a bunch of piglets, a few cows, sheep and goats (what DO you do with goats?). The barn had an empty forlorn look. People milled around but there really wasn't much to see. Where there were animals, people gathered about. It was hot and muggy and the barn offered lots of empty open shade. Next year they may just have photos of animals. Would certainly be easier to manage. Less messy and dusty.

The big change we noticed was that the fair has become a shopping experience. There had to be twice the number of food stands, and a WHOLE lot more ways to lose your money in the fun zones. Actually, it might as well be called the L.A.County Fun Zone. Only its pretty garish and very loud. As you pass by, you can barely hear yourself think. Where there was once a fun zone midway, there were many midways scattered all over and fewer stalls of people selling things that you probably didn't really need but were fun to check out anyway. The fair now has not just one, but two ferris wheels. You have to fight your way through the fun zone to reach the Fine Arts building, The horticulture exhibit (incredibly sad this year) was hidden by acres of rides and easy to miss.

The one improvement though, was the Fine Arts building. Tracing the history of the fair (that alone should have been a clue of what a fair should be to this years organizers), was a sprinkling of artists you could watch, talk to and even purchase from. There were a variety of classes offered though not much was happening in the afternoon Saturday.

Another disappointment was the craft center under the grand stands of the track. There were the usual exhibits of quilts, knitting, decorations of tables and Christmas trees, but fewer, and compared to past years, of fewer and poorer quality.

What should a fair be in the 21st Century? We still have to eat. We still need to raise, slaughter and eat animals. There is an even greater emphasis on the eating of healthy fruit and vegetables. In fact, recent discussions on NPR talked about the difference of buying your fruit and vegetables from an organic vs. a regular producer of these items. The conclusion of a recent study was that you might well be throwing your money away. New laws that require fewer and less use of insecticides, mean that what you eat is probably safer and better for you than ever before. Farmers should be proud of what they do and we should be proud of what they are doing for us. A local street fair offers a better chance to see the local produce and they even give you samples. Not so at the fair.

One of the buildings had been converted to a celebration of technology. It included copies of many of the Apple patent applications, there was a recreation of a 1909 Edison sound stage, old cars, a replica of the first successful airplane of the Wright brothers and short bio's of many of the men and women who have advanced our knowledge in many fields during the past 90 years. You could even ask Benjamin Franklin a question. And maybe, with more interactive exhibits this is the direction of the County Fair. However, this was the Los Angeles County Fair, and not one exhibit featured the history of our county. Movie industry? You mean it happened in our county? Oil? Aircraft? Not one was even mentioned.

You have to wonder as an artist. When your own county fair celebrates history and ignores its own home, what does that bode for us? Its true the Fine Arts Building honors Millard Sheets but in one of the most important counties in California, possibly the United States and certainly the world, the achievements of its citizens and immigrants, barely rates mentioning.

We've lost the concept of what a county fair was, we struggle to understand what it should be and fail to honor those who live in the county and honor their achievements.

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