Editorial Roundup: The State Fair: Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late.

Published 8:50 pm Friday, August 26, 2022

It aims to bring us back together as only it can. But take care out there.

When Minnesotans talk about their feelings toward the State Fair, one gets the idea that they are missing the point. They may sound positively poetic in describing their love of the Horse Barn or the Fine Arts Building. They may unconsciously salivate as they talk about cheese curds or Sweet Martha’s cookies. But hardly anyone says they love the State Fair because it brings people together.

A notable exception is Jerry Hammer, the fair’s general manager. He made the point in a profile published Sunday in the Star Tribune, when he cited the particular challenge he and his staff faced during the early days of the COVID pandemic. He allowed that 2020 “wasn’t fun for anybody … but when your business is bringing people together, and that’s the very thing you can’t do, that puts you in a tough spot.”

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That’s an apt insight into the fair’s function, wisdom developed over Hammer’s 25 years as manager. Foods, attractions, even beloved traditions come and go; the one constant allure of the fair is its people.

Anyone who’s ridden the SkyGlider from the Grandstand to the North End and back can tell you that the appeal is not so much the bird’s-eye view it affords of the fairgrounds themselves. Rather, it is the Bruegel-like panorama of human activity below: people eating, shopping, resting, holding hands, shepherding children, kissing. (Also part of the appeal is the display of underwear that somehow accumulates on the roof of the Little Farm Hands building.)

The human spectacle continues at ground level. There is something moving about a child’s response to the CHS Miracle of Birth exhibit, or the expression on a city dweller’s face as she touches the nose of a horse. Farther north, people express delight at the displays of seed art. Everywhere, fairgoers sport the tokens of their visit: yardsticks and tote bags, huge stuffed animals and huge cookie buckets.

The more ambitious among them circle the display of hot tubs for sale, wondering whether they can afford to take the plunge. Others step fully clothed into tiny saunas to try them out.

The pandemic closed the State Fair in 2020, and attendance numbers in 2021 remained depressed from pre-pandemic levels. It’s impossible to know whether the continuing pandemic will discourage people from attending in 2022, but the fair’s policy — subject to change — is that visitors need not wear masks or show proof of vaccination.

Of course, masks and vaccines, though still good practices, would not stop the coronavirus from showing up. Fairgoers will have to judge the risk of attending, and once at the fair they will have to use discretion about standing in densely packed lines as they wait for french fries. And they will have to trust that their fellow Minnesotans will stay away if they feel sick. We hope such trust is not misplaced.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought multiple changes to our culture. Workplaces may never be the same. Church attendance is down, and so is transit use. But our instinct is that the State Fair will bounce back faster and more fully than many institutions.

The State Fair has known other emergencies — the polio epidemic, several wars, bird flu — and has remained a vital part of Minnesota culture. And not because of any particular exhibit or attraction, but because people who disagree about practically everything can come together and find common enjoyment for 12 days each year.

The fairgrounds, opened to the public Thursday, may be the one piece of truly neutral territory left. As its advertising slogan says, the State Fair is a great get-together.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 24

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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