Bring fair into 21st centuryPosted Friday, July 24, 2009, at 1:59 PM
We're not surprised that the people who put together the fair this year believe it went well. Usually, they're not going to come out and say they did a poor job.
And in fact, the organizers and participants worked hard to do the best they could.
But let's face it. There are some problems there, which may or may not be within the capabilities of the people who currently run the fair to fix.
Essentially, it's dull by the standards of the modern day, and if you aren't a participant, the carnival is about the only reason to go. And that's not enough to make the fair what it should be. For far too many people, it's become the "five-minute fair" -- the time it takes to see everything they actually want to see or do before they head off to the carnival.
Originally, fairs were designed as a celebration of the harvest, a chance to show off the accomplishments and skills of rural lifestyles. That's why you have sections for the largest sugar beet, potato or ear of corn. It's why there are contests for the best pie or cake, and ribbons are handed out for the best quilts, sewing skills and crafts. It's why animals are put on display, to show the skill of the farmer or rancher who raised them. Those skills are still valid, and those honored with blue ribbons or grand champion awards should continue to feel proud of their accomplishments.
But 104 years ago, when the first Elmore County Fair was held, this was a rural area in which the vast majority of citizens were either involved in agricultural tasks, or worked for businesses that supported them.
Today, only a small percentage of the population still works the land to put food on our table. The rural lifestyle that the traditional fair celebrated is now rare, not the norm -- at least not in Elmore County. And as a result, its relevance to the general population is fading.
Look at the Western Idaho Fair in Boise, the state's largest. The animal barns and produce exhibits are not what draws people to that event. It's the carnival rides and food booths, the many concerts and the merchant buildings with their give-aways and drawings.
The Elmore County Fair still operates like a Norman Rockwell painting, a frozen moment in a time gone by.
To make the fair a major event again, a major draw for everyone in the county, it is time for the fair board to begin to re-evaluate what it is that will draw people for a celebration of what the county is today, to make it relevant again. That doesn't mean abandoning the traditional elements of the fair. If nothing else, they should be maintained as a connection to the past and an exhibition of those who still toil the land. But it is time to expand what the fair offers, time to open it up so that it becomes an event that also celebrates the lifestyles and accomplishments of the more urban 21st century, not just the rural 19th.
It's time to break away from doing it the same way it's been done for 104 years, and for the fair board to shake loose the cobwebs of inertia and embrace a new, more dynamic vision, one that will make the fair relevant again, and something no one wants to miss.
-- Kelly Everitt
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