An encore for the Seattle World's Fair

The case for marking the 50th anniversary of the big fair with a weeklong celebration called Century 21.5.
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Century 21, Seattle 1962

The case for marking the 50th anniversary of the big fair with a weeklong celebration called Century 21.5.

A month ago, I wrote an essay about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Seattle World'ꀙs Fair. Since then, I'ꀙve had a chance to speak with a few Century 21 and Seattle Center stakeholders (as well as other civic leaders) to gather information and help in thinking strategically about the possibilities for 2012. That the 1962 fair is a significant milestone in the city'ꀙs and the region'ꀙs history cannot be overstated. Thus, the 50th anniversary celebration demands a magnitude and boldness befitting the original event.

Selfishly, as someone too young to have attended the original fair, I also want people to look back at 2012 years from now and say, 'ꀜWow, the fair was great, but that anniversary sure was something else, too!'ꀝ I believe we owe it to the fair'ꀙs original organizers and to the former, present, and future stewards of Seattle and Seattle Center to do something very special. Ah, but what?

My approach is based on the work we did when I was at Museum of History and Industry to help organize the 2001 sesquicentennial of Seattle's founding, and on the 40th anniversary World'ꀙs Fair activities we produced in 2002, plus a number of other key local anniversaries we marked at MOHAI over the years. They taught me that several elements are essential to achieving a true community-wide success in 2012. These include:

  • A concentrated, week-long celebration and series of programs and performances at Seattle Center, ideally commencing Saturday, April 21, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the opening of the fair) and lasting through the following Sunday, April 29, 2012.
  • A single, nimble, independent entity chartered to coordinate planning, fundraising, and communications before and during the anniversary (and to coordinate anniversary activities of the various stakeholder groups).
  • A well-organized blue ribbon committee and working group to plan, conduct outreach, collect input and feedback, reach consensus, and build political and financial support for the celebration.
  • Significant private and public sector cash support ($1-2 million or more) plus in-kind services and materials.
  • A regional tourism-marketing strategy, with consistent graphic identity, tagline, website, social media, and strategic communications approach, including marketing and promotional partnerships.
  • Making the future of Seattle Center and of the city and the region the consistent thread throughout anniversary week programming and collateral materials. In addition to performances, a series of lectures and panel discussions should be devoted to public affairs and civics topics — rising above typical panel discussions.
  • Adding to the concentrated anniversary week should be a full year of less intensive 'ꀜbranded'ꀝ activities during 2011-2012. Examples: 50th anniversary special promotions at the Space Needle and Monorail, neighborhood screenings of Elvis Presley'ꀙs It Happened at the World'ꀙs Fair, special programs at signature Seattle Center events, tie-ins with Seafair and other non-Seattle Center events, symposia for historians, lectures, exhibits, etc.
  • A strategically coordinated 'ꀜhistory initiative'ꀝ could get under way soon to record oral histories of those associated with the fair; to identify Century 21 materials held by local institutions; to identify and collect motion picture film and still photos presently held by private individuals; and to create a multimedia website and local television/radio programs to showcase these materials in the countdown to the celebration (as well as into the future).

This anniversary week should honor the history of the fair and those who organized it, but it should also seize the opportunity to look forward as did the original fair. In the spirit of the original fair, Seattle Center tenants such as the Pacific Science Center, EMP, Seattle Children'ꀙs Theatre, Vera Project, NW Folklife, One Reel, Giant Magnet, Seattle International Film Festival, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera, Rep, Intiman, KCTS, Gates Foundation, and other groups should be encouraged to explore the future of science, music, theater, dance, architecture, film, and other disciplines through innovative exhibits, programs and events. These could take the form of showcases for up-and-coming scientists, performers, artists, musicians, writers and other thinkers — looking forward 38 years to 2050 ('ꀜCentury 21.5'ꀝ), just as the original fair looked forward 38 years to 2000 ('ꀜCentury 21'ꀝ).

Weekday activities should be geared toward the real stewards of the city'ꀙs future: K-12 students. Funds raised by the organizing entity could be competitively awarded (or apportioned by some other means) to participating groups to help underwrite their anniversary week programs.

Last of all, we should create 'ꀜCentury 22'ꀝ — a highly visible, lasting, and meaningful physical legacy (or legacies) for Seattle Center and for the city. Topping it off is my personal wish — to see the huge gas flame atop the Space Needle restored to burn during the 50th anniversary week and during future special events.


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