If Fair Books Minorities, Will Fans Follow?

Marc Hansen, Des Moines Register, July 15, 2008

If the Iowa State Fair is a celebration of our rural roots, could there possibly be too many concerts featuring country performers?

State legislator and Urban Dreams founder Wayne Ford says yes. Nothing against country, but the fair needs a major dose of diversity in the shows it books for the grandstand. Latinos and blacks, he says, are underrepresented.

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State Fair Manager Gary Slater brought some of this on himself. He set the bar high a few years ago when he lured Alicia Keys, and now he has to live up to his past success. Or Ford lets him hear about it through the media.

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I’ll be honest. I’ve never walked into the Iowa State Fair, glanced around at the 97 percent white crowd and said, “Hey, what this place needs is more black performers in the grandstand to reflect the growing diversity of the state.”

So maybe we need someone like Ford to point out the not-so-obvious to the somewhat oblivious.

Not to generalize, but you see more Latinos than black people at the fair. Do blacks stay away because the fair has little to offer them? Or would they show up in greater numbers if they had something to show up for?

When I asked a black guy I know why he doesn’t go to the fair, he said, “I don’t do livestock . . . or tractor pulls.”

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But every other year or so, he makes a point of saying the State Fair could use a few more minority entertainers, a few hip-hop acts, a little variety. The State Fair is for all Iowans, he’s saying, not just NASCAR fans.

The clientele, however, is mostly white. Much whiter than urban Iowa. About the same color as rural Iowa.

Maybe the situation is like the old Yogi Berra quote: “If the fans don’t want to come to the ballpark, you can’t stop them.”

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fair

State Representative Wayne Ford.

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