A Fair Trade For Fair Park?

Goodbye Culture, Hello Corny Dog

It’s now only a matter of time until the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra make their escape from Fair Park, in what one city official calls “an amicable divorce after an unhappy marriage.” The Museum and Symphony people are certainly shedding no tears, obviously looking forward with delight to their new homes in new facilities. And if the State Fair people are distressed by the impending cultural exodus, they’re not showing it.

“The Museum of Fine Arts isn’t the only museum here,” says State Fair General Manager Wayne Gallagher. “Remember, we’ve still got the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium, the Health and Science Museum, the Garden Center, and the Hall of State. All we’ve lost is one museum and one tenant from the Music Hall, which is overloaded as it is.” It’s unlikely, though, that Gallagher’s optimism rests on what’s left behind; instead, it lies in what’s ahead. The State Fair is in the process of committing a sizable hunk of money – some three quarters of a million a year for the next three or four years – to, of all things, the Midway. The plan is to transform the Midway into a theme amusement park.

Before visions of Six Flags, and competition, can enter your head, Gallagher (a former v.p. at Six Flags) is quick to clarify: “We’re not talking about a Disneyland Southwest here. We’re talking about a smaller scale amusement park with a lower admission cost than the major parks. Not a $10-for-10-hours operation. But it will definitely be a theme park, with the look and feel, the architectural design, of a theme park.”

The theme? The most likely design being discussed is simply that of an old-style Midway, a kind of clean and polished Coney Island, “with lots of lights and lots of nostalgia.” About one-fourth of the existing area is already torn up for refurbishing. While the Midway is the Fair’s priority project for now, it is likely that other major improvements, particularly to the exposition facilities, will eventually be made, pointing toward the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986. Some still speculate about a World’s Fair.

“If it’s done right,” says one official, “Fair Park will combine the best of the Hem-isFair in San Antonio and Six Flags in Arlington. But to do it, they’ve got to get some new blood on the State Fair Board. The Cullums and the Stem-monses have to give up the reins and let Fair Park play a new role. Over the decade, Fair Park will either do it or die.”

On Valentine’s Day, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts announced with great fanfare that it was one of only four museums in the country to have secured “Pompeii AD 79,” next to King Tut the most prestigious of the international art shows. Such a coup didn’t just happen. It took planning, some shrewd politicking – and a bit of luck.

Since no museum could possibly pay for insuring and transporting such a show, the government, after initial inquiries from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, became involved with the Pompeii exhibit through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Alex Lacy, museum program director for the NEH, is an old friend of DMFA director Harry Parker. Parker concedes that it certainly didn’t hurt to have a friend in a high place.

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