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  • Autumn Payne /

    Infusing the State Fair with interactive technology is an idea that can effectively answer the challenge of keeping the event relevant to young people.

  • William Bronston is CEO of Sacramento Sierra Digital Arts Studio Partnership.

Viewpoints: Imagination, technology could revitalize State Fair

Published: Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 - 9:18 am

Albert Einstein once said, "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination." Imagine for a moment a modern renaissance, a 21st century California State Fair – an interactive adventure where imagination, technology and the genius of California's knowledge base can renew the relevance of a cherished tradition.

We don't have to minimize the celebration of our state's deep and vibrant agricultural roots, but we could reinvent the State Fair to demonstrate California's transformational role on the global technological stage.

As it is now, the familiar State Fair magnet has been losing its pull and rapidly losing touch with younger generations. Coinciding with the retirement of two longtime leaders of Cal Expo, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to soon fill four vacant seats on the California State Fair board. Assuming that new leaders can inspire fresh approaches, infusing the fair with interactive technology is an idea that can effectively answer this challenge and deserves serious consideration.

In 2013, we can re-engage children, youth and their families by supercharging the fair's future in their imaginative minds through smartphone technology.

The State Fair is the ideal platform to promote the marriage of technology and knowledge, of creativity and understanding, of imagination and reality. It is the brilliant place to endorse California's success in so many areas – business, tourism, technology, education, agriculture, entertainment, and to empower our youth and their media arts educators to tell their stories using their own language, their own tools, their own workforce-developing skills.

Imagine a State Fair brought live to the world through high school and college media classes, where students and teachers could film their county exhibit preparations and produce an organized grid of day-to-day summer fair coverage. Imagine the potential for professionals to inspire the next generation by producing videos detailing the intricacies of their crafts.

What company – Panasonic, Apple, Adobe, Cisco, Microsoft, Sony, Canon, Ricoh, Xerox, Avid, Newtek, Comcast – would pass up an opportunity to install and provide webcasting tools, cameras, screens and technology for state and worldwide creative applications? In a million-person, monthlong venue, who would skip the chance to show off their latest equipment and breakthrough solutions in the emerging economy? What would the effect on attendance, revenue, learning and civic engagement be with a youth-driven, interactive, step-by-step digital mediation of the fair's appeal.

We can restore the unique fair experience, the discovery, the thrill of the fair, by embedding QR codes in and around every single exhibit. These free-to-link accessible squares allow every smartphone-toting fair visitor to scan and immediately receive related video imagery and endless learning resources – California museums, libraries, schools, language translations, Internet wikis, markets and social media worlds, just for starters.

In addition to QR codes, other newer interactive technologies can be installed and programmed to convey the power, depth and excitement of the fair, such as transmedia RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips or Microsoft N chip implants allowing anyone with a digital device to activate an Internet video and information sources behind any and all exhibits.

The possibilities for engagement, information sharing and imagination would open a whole new realm to the fair. A working model of this kind of interactive exhibit exists in the more than three dozen new major wall art murals and sculptures scattered throughout downtown Davis.

This adventure could ignite year-round community service projects from California classrooms and community nonprofits. The increased personal involvement could increase the desire to attend the fair and even increase school attendance. The dreams of a re-imagined fair could become reality by unifying fairgoers on a treasure hunt connecting them to spectacular cultural, economic and vocational interests, and the astounding magic of world-class sciences embedded through the fairgrounds.

First, we must invite and explore partnerships between the fair board and visionary industry leaders, community agencies, and visionary educators and organizers. We must experiment with practical collaborations, public input, and set goals for realistic implementation. Together, we need to imagine the potential that bold integrative vision, new incoming policy and administrative leadership, and the boundless capacities of regional public and private friendships can forge starting with 2013's surprises.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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