A Fair & Scruffy City: How Two Expos Shaped Who We are

A Fair and Scruffy City logo

On September 19, Knox County Public Library will present "A Fair and Scruffy City: How Two Expos Shaped Who We Are" at 7:00 p.m. in the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay Street. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Knoxville is perhaps an unlikely host of two major expositions, but there is little doubt that each Expo has shaped the city as we know it today. While the impact of these Expos continue to influence who we are, there hasn't been an Expo on American soil since 1984. What has become of World's Fairs in the western hemisphere? 

The program will explore the impact of the National Conservation Exposition of 1913 and the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. It will also take a look at the bigger picture of World's Fairs across the globe, which is the subject of a new documentary, Where's the Fair?, being screened in the Knoxville Film Festival on September 20. Three weeks later, on October 12, the City of Knoxville is sponsoring the Centennial Conservation Expo at Chilhowee Park to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Conservation Exposition.

Presenters for the evening include Jesse Fox Mayshark of the city of Knoxville, John Craig, local developer and former World's Fair employee, Steve Cotham, Knox County Historian, and Jeff Ford, writer and director of the documentary, Where's the Fair? In 1913, Knoxville hosted the National Conservation Expo in what is now Chilhowee Park. This event put Knoxville in the national spotlight and garnered attention for not only the city itself but also conservation and environmental issues of the time. The expo itself was deemed a success with over 1 million in attendance. One lasting and unrelated environmental outcome, however, was the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by individuals involved with the success of the 1913 Expo.

In 1982, Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair. By successfully playing host once again to a national exposition, Knoxville and Knoxvllians alike embraced their roles as ambassadors to the world. The legacy of the 1982 World’s Fair is still evident today in obvious ways, such as the World’s Fair Park and the Sunsphere. However, another legacy in which Knoxville takes great pride is growing and emerging from the “Scruffy Little City” moniker we were given by a national news organization at the time.

Just two years later, the New Orleans World’s Fair was the last time most Americans were aware of World’s Fairs. The documentary addresses the question Where’s the Fair? As it turns out, they are still alive and well in other parts of the world. Written and Directed by Jeff Ford and Produced by Brad Bear, Where's the Fair will be screened by the Knoxville Film Festival on Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. at Regal's Downtown West Cinema 8.