In 1999, 2004, 2009, and now 2014, I've had the opportunity to experience an Expo city within a year of its debut on the world stage. In all four cases (Hannover's Expo 2000, Aichi's Expo 2005, Shanghai's Expo 2010, and Milan's Expo 2015), you get the feeling that the city doesn't quite know what to expect just yet. In all four cases, much of what's going to happen in the next year is still a mystery. What is this big event that has been in the planning on construction stage for years?
One of the challenges for Expo organizers is communicating to the public what to expect. The organizers of Expo 2015 have taken the step of creating the Expo Gate, a preview center that's open to the public. The temporary landmark, created by Scandurra Studio, is situated just outside Sforzesco Castle, which was part of the site of the 1906 Universal Exposition. It will also serve as a ticket center, conveniently located in the center of town.
As I type this, I’m in a metal tube hurdling across Baffin Bay (between Canada and Greenland) on my way from San Francisco to Milan.After having been to nine world’s fairs (1982 Knoxville, 1984 New Orleans, 1986 Vancouver, 1998 Lisbon, 2000 Hannover, 2005 Aichi, 2008 Zaragoza, 2010 Shanghai, and 2012 Yeosu), and reported on them in newspapers, magazines, and on television, I decided that the time was right for me to actually live in a city as it prepares to host an international expositions. Like a tornado hunter, I’m putting myself in the path this time.As it happens, Milan’s legacy of design and education coincides well with my own career needs. For years, I’ve worked in graphic design in marketing departments, so I’ll be pursuing a graduate degree in Visual Brand Design in the coming ten months.
This year, as folks in New York celebrate the 50th and 75th anniversaries of their iconic world’s fairs and San Francisco prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, I’m hoping to bring attention to the medium as it exists today. World’s fairs are not dead.Recently, America’s National Public Radio (NPR) featured a segment asking people the question “What would a world’s fair be like today?” Typically in reports like this, there’s at least a passing reference to the fact that world’s fairs still exist. They’re usually dismissed as not being as big or important as they used to be. Sadly, I think this is a symptom of the America-centric attitude we have: If they don’t happen here, they must not be important. By this logic, there hasn't been a Summer Olympics or a World Cup since the 1990's.One of my hopes, while here, is to find a way to bring a world’s fair back to North America while bringing the excitement of Expo 2015 to Americans through the web.
I'm often called upon to explain what world's fairs are and what kind of impact they can have on a city, a region, or a country. Here in North America, that can be a daunting task because generations have now grown up not having had the chance to experience a world's fair firsthand.
Not surprisingly, people focus on the economics of world's fairs. Do they make money?
When writing parts 1 and 2 about the connections between Walt Disney, the company he founded, and world's fairs, I hadn't planned on writing a part 3, but apparently, the story won't end just yet.
Every world's fair since 1984 has had a mascot, a character designed to anthropomorphize the ideals of the expo and appeal to younger guests. As you might imagine, it's a challenging and rewarding task and the most successful mascots go on to embody the expo and its ideals long after the event's closing day.
Walt Disney's greatest contribution to the world of world's fairs was at an event that wasn't officially recognized by the BIE, but nonetheless has gone on to become an important celebration and beloved memory for many in the United States: the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.
Because the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair wasn't officially recognized by the BIE, participation by foreign countries was greatly reduced. To remedy that gap in content, the organizers chose to rely on corporations and US states more than would typically be done. At the same time, Walt Disney was looking for opportunities to connect with American corporations and let them "foot the bill" for his own artistic and technological experimentation.
I’ve written before about how many Americans are unaware that expos (or “world’s fairs,” as we tend to call them here) still happen. Similarly, the millions of people who live in countries that have hosted expos in the last couple of decades are sometimes unaware of America’s contributions to the medium throughout history. Walt Disney’s story is emblematic about how 20th Century United States history and world’s fair history are intertwined.
I see it as part of my mission to keep world’s fairs and the United States from drifting apart. Fortunately, working at the Walt Disney Family Museum, I have the privilege of interacting regularly with other folks who are also passionate about the power of places.
I've mentioned in this blog before that groups in Houston, San Francisco, and Minneapolis-St. Paul have looked at finding ways to get the United States back into the BIE so that cities can bid for Expo 2022, Expo 2023, or Expo 2025, but parallel efforts are also under way in Canada.
After Edmonton's bid efforts for 2017 were killed off by Canada's federal government, interests in Toronto, headed by City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, started looking at Expo 2025. Last year, those efforts seemed to have been killed by the Canadian federal government's decision to discontinue its membership in the BIE, but this month, it looks like there's a renewed push for Expo 2025 and an effort to keep Canada in the BIE.
The organizers of Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan are asking the public to vote for which of seven logos will be used to express the identity of Central Asia's first world's fair. Here are the seven choices.
In my last entry, I talked about the state of expos in the United States. It’s a difficult topic to address to an American audience since there are a number of big issues here. These issues include: the lack of US participation in two recent foreign expositions, the lower quality of the presentations that did happen, the lack of transparency behind those efforts, as well as the lack of any world’s fairs on US soil in nearly 30 years. This is made even more difficult because the vast majority of Americans are unaware that expos still exist. Many younger people have never even heard of the medium – no matter if you call them “expos" (as most of the world does) or “world’s fairs” (as most Americans do).
Filmmaker Jeffrey Ford started wondering a few years ago what ever happened to world’s fairs. They inspired generations and he began to wonder, after a chance purchase of old View-Master Reels, whatever happened to the medium. The film begins by documenting his own journey to answer his own question: What happened to the world’s fair?
I’ve spent a lifetime studying the history of world’s fairs and I’m often asked which expo is my favorite. It’s always been a difficult thing to answer, but in recent years, I realized there really has only been one answer. My favorite expo is always the next one. Living in the United States, that’s become a challenge as of late since we haven’t had a world’s fair in North America since 1986.
When I was just fifteen, growing up in Atlanta, I was fortunate to live just hours from Knoxville, Tennessee which hosted the Knoxville International Energy Exposition, better known locally as the 1982 World’s Fair. Two years later, I went to the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. In college, I saved up money for a cheap flight to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada to see Expo ’86. I was clearly hooked on expos at an early age.
As a child, visiting relatives in St. Louis, Missouri here in the United States, I’d often hear references to the 1904 World’s Fair that was held there. Officially known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Americans have tended to use the term “world’s fair” much in the same way that we refer to football as “soccer.”
I’d later find out that not only did my great-grandmother attend the world’s fair, but I discovered that the hospital I was born in was on land that was part of the site. For folks in St. Louis, the event is still an important part of the city’s identity. It not only helped St. Louis shape its identity, but pointed the way forward for the city and the nation.