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Local fair scores first-place awards at the state level

Well, we did ourselves proud at the convention this year,” said Plumas-Sierra County Fair Manager John Steffanic after attending the Western Fair Association convention earlier this year. Steffanic was presented with a first-place award for the best theme at the WFA convention held in Anaheim. The 2017 “Art to Ag” fair theme was recognized for creativity along with the invention and installation of “Artopolis.”

Steffanic made a presentation at the Leadership Luncheon in Anaheim outlining the Plumas Sierra County Fair’s art installation of Artopolis. The Plumas fair received the top honor in the category for fairs with attendance of 100,000 or less. An artistic glass award was presented to Steffanic for the fair theme of “Art to Ag.”

Thank you everyone for helping our fair be the best it can be!” said Steffanic. He had a goal, he aimed high and told the fair board of directors over a year ago that he wanted to get the local fair on the map.

The Plumas-Sierra County Fair finds itself in some pretty heady company when it comes to competing for the highest industry award on the West Coast,” said Steffanic. The Merrill Award is given annually to the fair showing the most innovation, vision and excellence. For the first time ever, the Plumas-Sierra County Fair was a finalist for the award.

Other finalists included the New Mexico State Fair, the San Diego County Fair, the Alameda County Fair and the Marin County Fair. Attendance for those fairs range from a high of 1.6 million at the San Diego County Fair to 113,000 at the Marin County Fair.

The Plumas-Sierra County Fair boasts an attendance of 10,064, which Steffanic admits is fudged a little anyway. “I feel the real advantage in this group of finalists falls to our fair in Quincy,” observed Steffanic. “We can’t rely on money or staff to entertain or educate our community. We truly have to work on innovative creativity to pull off projects like Artopolis.”

Collaboration certainly helps; the installation was enthusiastically supported by Feather River College Art Director Rafael Blanco, who organized and coordinated the popular mural contest. Selected artists spent the week of the fair creating 8-foot by 8-foot murals inspired by Art to Ag.

Participation for Artopolis was spread across both Plumas and Sierra counties thanks to artist Donna Mills. Schools from Loyalton to Chester created single 4-foot by 8-foot panels of a mural that were then put together during the fair. Mills traveled to each of the schools giving direction on how to paint murals, and then served as the “mayor” of Artopolis, answering questions and encouraging people to create art at the many projects that were available during the week.

“Artopolis wouldn’t be complete without the presence of Plumas Arts Director Roxanne Valladao” said Steffanic. Valladao provided local live performers in the Artopolis Cabaret Tent, as well as coordinated opportunities for working artists to create and sell their work.

The Merrill Award is named for the Founder of Western Fairs Association, Louis Merrill. The trade organization was founded in 1922 to promote and lobby for fairs across the West Coast. After the modern Plumas County Fair was formed in 1940, early legends Tulsa St. Elmo Scott and Chet Peckinpah were heavily involved in the organization. Both are inductees to the Western Fairs Association Hall of Fame.

“Neither the Plumas County Fair, nor the Plumas-Sierra County Fair has ever been a finalist for this prestigious award,” said Steffanic. But now, thanks to hard collaborative work by citizens of Plumas and Sierra counties, it has.

Overall, the Plumas-Sierra County Fair crashed the Western Fairs Association Convention with a whole series of first-place awards. Although it did not win the prestigious Merrill Award, Steffanic said he was pleased that the fair received four first-place finishes in the general achievement awards.

The Plumas-Sierra County Fair is in the Class 1 category. This includes all fairs with attendance up to 100,000. “This meant we bettered the likes of Santa Barbara and Napa County fairs,” said Steffanic. “It was extremely gratifying to be recognized as the best on the West Coast in these categories.”

The awards came for excellence in the areas of: Theme Program, for the 2017 theme of “Art to Ag;” Fair Logo, for its “Art to Ag” logo featuring Warhol like cows in sunglasses; Guest Services, for the popular Chipper Express golf cart tours; and Event Within An Event, for the Merrill Award finalist “Artopolis.”

The fair was given beautiful certificates, which Steffanic promises to display at this year’s 2018 “Welcome to the Neighborhood” fair.

Each year, Western Fairs Achievement Committee chooses several awards as “Featured Awards” and gives special attention to these at the convention-closing banquet. The Theme Program was one of these special awards and the Plumas-Sierra County Fair was given an impressive glass award honoring its first place finish for the “Art to Ag” theme.

“It was awfully exciting to hear the words Plumas and Sierra in the Anaheim Convention Center,” Steffanic said. “I think we definitely showed up on the radar of many people during the convention.”

As a finalist for the Merrill Award, the local fair was recognized for showing innovation and creativity in the fair industry. The fair was up against the San Diego County Fair, which gave free fair tickets to new U.S. citizens; the Alameda County Fairgrounds for its Digital Marketing Program; The Marin County Fair, with a theme based on the Summer of Love, theirs being the Summer of Fun; and the New Mexico State Fair, which created an Autism Awareness Sensory Station.

Although the award winner had been selected before the convention even began, each fair made a presentation about their project at the opening leadership luncheon. When the winner was announced at the awards banquet Friday night, the New Mexico State Fair and the San Diego County Fair shared the Merrill Award.

“I know it sounds cliché, but it really was an honor being a finalist,” said Steffanic. “We made a splash with our presentation and I know many will be looking for what we can do this coming year.”

The 2019 Convention will be held in Reno and Steffanic hopes this year’s theme “Welcome to the Neighborhood” will be good enough to the catch the eye of the awards committee again.

The Plumas-Sierra County Fair, as well as many small fairs, have not been recognized due to the fact that the process does take a little time and thought to enter. Many of the larger fairs actually have staff that spend a good amount of time preparing these entries.

Steffanic said it was at the previous year’s convention that he asked other fairs in Northern California how many awards they have won, and got no response. Steffanic added, “There are many great ideas that come from small fairs” and he challenged the other fairs to enter. “It certainly paid off for our fair,” said Steffanic.

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