A&E: Searching for fair art

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Most weeks, I use a pretty traditional definition of arts and entertainment when I decide what to review in this column.

But that’s most weeks. This time, after a day-opening day-at the Indiana State Fair, I’m going to broaden my criteria a bit.

Looked at with open eyes, the Indiana State Fair is one massive piece of performance art, with thousands of artists participating (most of them unknowingly). The kids in their band uniforms trying to pretend sweat isn’t pouring down their cheeks. The guy walking his sheep from the shearing area. That woman over there dripping soft serve on her ancient T-shirt.

The hands clutching radio-station promo bags filled with bright orange squeeze balls from the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network and never-to-belooked at brochures from hot tub representatives and kitchen remodelers. The senior citizen dance groups, the kids getting a chance to power-drill screws into drywall, and the 7-year-old opening the International Circus Hall of Fame show (three times daily) by spinning what looks like at least a dozen hula hoops.

The food demonstrators whose talks are followed by lines for a cupful of sample and a take-home spice packet. The minimally intrusive announcer’s voice coming through the speaker suggesting visitors stop by for (if I heard it correctly) a demonstration of animal surgery.

Yes, there are traditional performances to be experienced at the fair (this year’s headline entertainers still to come this week include “High School Musical” star Corin Bleu on the 11th, Sugarland on the 12th and Garrison Keiller and his “Prairie Home Companion” road show on the 13th).

And there are other arts as well, particularly in the 4-H building, where row after row of wonderfully inventive cakes included an amazing five-layer creation based on the game Candyland (nice work Jessica Means, grade 10) and another, with an apple theme, iced amusingly with the words “Pick Me” (bravo, Amber Simmons). And fine woodworking is also on display, including a first-class poker table made by a ninth grader. (Hey Steven Snyder, drop me a note. Let’s talk.)

It’s here-and in the Project Excel artwinning display in the Grand Hall-where I find the most State Fair satisfaction. Evidence is all over of kids making things with their minds, hearts and hands-and clearly mentored by adults who care not just about the kids but about the art they are preserving and continuing. Some of the work in the Excel gallery would fit comfortably in a professional collection (such as Evansville’s Tabitha Cravens’ “I will keep my lips … ” sculpture and the elusive “Shattered Mirror” piece by Lafayette’s Jasmyn Mudrich).

Others just demonstrate that not every kid is spending all of his or her waking hours in front of a computer or TV screen.

The Indiana State Fair runs through the 17th. Go. And enjoy the art. However you define it.

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming events to lharry@ibj.com. Visit ibj.com/artsfor additional reviews, previews and arts discussion.

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