1987 was the year I moved from New York to Oakland and joined the small staff of the quarterly World’s Fair magazine. The eight years I spent working with editor and publisher Alfred Heller were my entrée to the attractions industry.
It was one year after the last great world expo on North American soil, Vancouver 86 and five years after the opening of Epcot. Both projects helped launch many careers and firms still active in our industry and set in motion many important trends that continue today.
Alf, who passed away in December 2019 at age 90, had started World’s Fair magazine because he loved world’s fairs. He had an extensive collection, especially of posters. But the study of expos also corresponded with his other areas of deep interest and knowledge: environmentalism, urban development, history, anthropology, politics and business.
I brought several years’ publishing experience, a knack for writing and promotion, and an art background. One of the tests Alf gave me was to research and write what became my first Parade of Events, a popular column that ran in every issue.
Alf enabled me to learn and explore in many directions. He was fond of saying, “You know, you’re NOT the editor.” But he eventually promoted me to associate editor/publisher, as World’s Fair transitioned from a scholarly journal to a respectable trade magazine with a scholarly air and a booth at IAAPA.
The 1990s were a rollercoaster for expos, with plenty to write about: a spate of unofficial (non-BIE) expos in Japan; the declining performance of the US; the expanding role of specialty film and high-tech interactive exhibits; Korea’s first world’s fair (1993); the opening of Euro Disneyland. It took me into many overlapping sectors of visitor attractions, project development, entertainment technology and design.
Expos tend to suffer from a lack of institutional memory as each new organizing committee and pavilion team seeks to put its unique stamp on the product. In 1994, Alf wrote, “The BIE should hold workshops for member countries on how to present themselves effectively at expos. They should invite designers, equipment- makers, architects and experts on the best exhibits at expos past as well as on the trend of the moment.” This was a key statement. World’s Fair magazine was a resource to the expo world, providing shared wisdom and perspective that were otherwise hard to find.
The magazine ran 15 years. Alf continued to attend world’s fairs (20 in his lifetime) and to review them on his site worldsfairs.com. He donated his collection to Yale. I’ll leave you with a quote from his Editor’s Notebook, Vol. XV, No. 4, Oct-Dec 1995: “Expos won’t survive without ideas.”
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