Here’s the latest flutter over the State Fair of Texas, which continues to deep fry down at Fair Park through October 22. It is about a survey the fair is offering attendees the chance to win $1,000 to complete. Among a host of questions, like how old are you and how safe do you feel at the fair, the State Fair drops a sensitive bombshell. Depending on the version of the survey, it either asks how would you feel if the State Fair of Texas departed Dallas’ Fair Park after 130 years, or whether you believe the fair should work with the city to keep it at Fair Park for another 130 years.
In the article that appeared over the weekend about the survey, the subtext is clear. The State Fair is at the center of the debate over the future of Fair Park. Three groups are vying to take over private control of the park. The fair has been criticized for not living up to the terms of its contract with the city, managing Fair Park into a concrete mess, and contributing historically to the ongoing disinvestment and degradation of the neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park. All the while, a group headed by former Trammel Crow CEO Don Williams remains dead-locked in a series of lawsuits related to freedom of information requests to view the fair’s oft-criticized and tightly guarded finances (I mean, they count their ducats by weighing greasy tickets, for goodness sake).
And so, now the fair suddenly takes it upon itself to measure the emotional attachment of its attendees to the idea of the State Fair being in Fair Park. How does that not play as a preventive political maneuver that will raise its head again as the Fair Park privatization bid moves forward? And reading the fair’s spokesperson’s aww-shucks, gee-whiz, nothing going on here quote in the DMN, that perception is only furthered. Or, as council member Scott Griggs puts it, “Nothing the State Fair does surprises me.”
But that is not the best part of the article. The best part comes from young Jocelyn Hodges, age 15, who, when asked about the State Fair and Fair Park, makes a simple, ingenious suggestion.
“It would be kind of cool if it moved around to different cities every year,” she said.
Oh, I know, the sweet, inspiring naivete of the youth. Of course, it is not a practical suggestion. Of course, the powers that be – from fair officials watching the bottom line to city officials counting tax dollars – don’t want to take on the risk or complication of mounting the fair in moving locations year in and year out. There’s the tradition, the logistical nightmare, the cost, the loyalties, the liabilities, the food vendors, and all the countless little details.
But forget all that for a second and just think about Ms. Hodges’ idea: A State Fair that Travels.
It would be kind of cool. Actually, it would be very cool.
Each year could highlight a Texas region and bring in regional contrast. Each event could spruce up a locale and draw tourism, investment, and visitors to a different part of the state. Die-hard vendors could travel to the fair, and so could Big Tex. Sure, you wouldn’t get to ride on the Texas Star every year, but San Antonio, El Paso, Lubbock, Nacogdoches, Abilene, and who knows where else could build there own unique attractions. Maybe there could be a fair circuit – 10 cities that shared the honor, or one per cultural or geographical region. And the fair wouldn’t be an albatross around a specific location, but rather an Olympic-style interruption – embraced because local businesses and neighborhoods would know they wouldn’t have to relive the nightmare of the fair year-in and year-out.
How fun would it be to attend a State Fair of Texas on the Gulf Coast? Imagine the food at a state fair in the Rio Grande Valley. Think about the music at a state fair in the Hill Country.
Texas’ greatest quality is its rich cultural and geographical diversity and its vivacious embracing of individual freedom. Its most irritating quality is its pigeon-brained, self-serving cultural, political, and economic petulance, a parochial protectionsim which it fraudulently tries to pass off as individualism and independence. In its broad-shouldered political maneuvering, the State Fair exhibits too much of the later quality. A traveling fair would go a long way towards embracing the former and making Texas’ best self the center of the show.