Kathleen Gallagher is an Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship professor at SMU. Recently, Gallagher took her International Comparative Cultural Policy class to the State Fair of Texas in Fair Park. It might not seem like an obvious choice for a Cultural Policy class at first, but the visit was important to the theme built into the curriculum.
Professor Gallagher has designed the course around information literacy, which is defined as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”
In layman’s terms, it is the ability to locate, evaluate and use pertinent information. Where better to locate information centered around culture than at a state fair? For the activity during this visit, students were grouped together and were asked to research individual themes or topics under the umbrella of information that they seek, consume and produce.
Fair Park specifically provides a prime location to research topics such as urban revitalization or social justice due to the controversies surrounding the revamp of the State Fair’s home. As Professor Gallagher puts it, “It’s not about corn dogs and funnel cakes – except for the student who is particularly focused on food as a manifestation of culture and festivals as a celebration thereof… but academically focused on corn dogs and funnel cakes.”
Anna Aglietta, a master’s student in the International Arts Management Program, researched the “relationship between social justice and cultural and artistic activities.” She focused on “whether the fair has any impact or social implications on the community.”
“It was a great example of the American and Texan culture. I am from Italy and we definitely have nothing like the Fair there,” says Aglietta.
Elahe Marjovi, a graduate student from Iran currently living in Montreal, says “Visiting the fair was of course beneficial because we always learn at least something from visiting new places and there is no harm in that!”
Her group’s focus was on leveraging for artists.
“I noticed that State Fairs provide opportunities for local artists to show case their art, especially crafts. Although this is not the main mission of the fair. In their exhibition buildings they put artists and other suppliers next to each other which wouldn’t allow the audience to fully appreciate the arts.”
Grad student Linda Pitt speaks about the practicality of the trip and the educational benefits.
“Not only did we have a lot of fun at the fair but we also saw the event through an arts and cultural management lens. We considered and learned about the marketing and branding aspects, the impact on the community, the sense of identity that the fair promotes as well as the policies related to it. It was awesome to be able to apply what we’ve been learning and reading about it in the classroom to the real world.”
This experience was undertaken as a relevant, hands-on course aid for students of several nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Professor Gallagher hopes “as an international group… [the] experience will also prompt discussions that make our U.S. students see state fairs in another light, too.”