Urso Chappell’s ExpoMuseum Blog: February 2009

19 February 2009

Wall Street Journal Article: the United States and World's Fairs Today

The Wall Street Journal today published an article on page one entitled The U.S. Can't Host a World Expo, and Fans Say That's No Fair. The author talked to me about many of these issues and I'm even mentioned in the article. ExpoMuseum was used as a source for some of the interactive graphics.

It's great that these issues are getting this level of attention. However, there are many different issues related to world's fairs here and for a lay audience, it's easy to get them confused.

Issue 1: The United States Pavilion at Expo 2010
I've spoken of this before and I have some hope that there will be a U.S. National Pavilion in Shanghai. We're way behind schedule on this with some pavilions already under construction. I'm hoping a way will be found to fully fund the pavilion soon. It would be a great embarrassment for my country to be unrepresented among nearly 200 other countries. I've written about this issue before. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unpaid member of the BH&L Group's advisory board.

Issue 2: United States Membership in the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE)
I'm glad to see this issue mentioned in the press so soon after the end of the Bush Administration. I'm hoping, years from now, our lapse in membership will be seen as an historical blip. It's a lot easier to unjoin than join, however. My understanding is that it will mean a new treaty. I created the web site USA-BIE.org to spotlight this issue.

Issue 3: A United States City Hosting a World's Fair
It's been unclear to me for a few years now whether a United States city can host an international exposition without the United States being a member of the BIE. I think, technically, it can, but it would certainly make it more difficult for a bidding city to win. One issue that wasn't brought up was that of a North American city bidding (and winning) the right to host an expo. Queretaro, Mexico bid for Expo 2010 and it seems likely that a Canadian city will bid for Expo 2017. I think a Canadian or Mexican world's fair would certainly stoke interest in the United States.

I see San Francisco as being particularly well suited to hosting a world's fair in the coming years. To that end, I created 2020WorldsFair.com to stoke interest and start a conversation. The article might give the impression that I've received little interest in a world's fair here, but to be completely honest, bidding for 2020 wouldn't begin until around 2011 at the earliest. Politics can change very quickly in this town and it's unclear who the political and economic players will be in the next 2, 5, or 11 years.

Reading some of the comments to this article, as well as comments I've read elsewhere, it seems clear to me that most of the United States audience that does know about world's fairs, sees them as mostly through the lens of nostalgia. A world's fair in our own times would be totally unlike one from the '60's... which were different from the '30's... which were different from the 19th Century.

Many things have changed in the last few decades. The Olympics, museums, theme parks, and live entertainment have all changed with the times and are all seen as just as relevant today as they were years ago. International expositions, as a medium, combine these and more. Arguments that we don't "need" world's fairs now that we have the internet and jet travel just don't stand up to scrutiny when you look at other mediums such as these. If people no longer liked to experience things in person, we would have seen a decline in museum visits, theme park visit, or live entertainment attendance in the last few decades.

18 February 2009

70th Anniversary of the Golden Gate International Exposition

In 1939 and 1940, the years most known for New York's world's fair, San Francisco also hosted a large exposition on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. It was San Francisco's third and last (so far) international exposition.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has an article today about the exposition with some photos:

This Saturday, the Treasure Island Museum Association is hosting a Treasure Island History Day from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., complete with walking tours, slide and video shows, and memorabilia: