Monday, June 21, 2021

James Ogul: A career in US expos and expo pavilions

by Judith Rubin, InPark Magazine co-editor
Read James Ogul‘s book, “Tales from the Expo,” an InPark Magazine online book edited by Judith Rubin. Tales from the Expo: Table of Contents

James Ogul
James Ogul

[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]J[/dropcap]ames Ogul may not be a household name, but it was a name that I read and heard frequently in the 1980s and ‘90s, during my tenure at World’s Fair magazine*. We knew Ogul then as the face of the US Information Agency (USIA), which managed US participation in world expos. The US presence on the expo scene was dependable from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. It began to waver in the 1990s, but the US Pavilion at world expos has made an inspiring comeback in the 21st century, with the exemplary USA Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, followed by Yeosu Expo 2012 and now Expo Milano 2015.

At such times as our nation has stepped up to participate in a world expo, from the early ‘80s to the present, more often than not Ogul has been tapped to help coordinate the effort on the government side.
Photo: BRC Imagination Arts (c)
The USIA was absorbed some years ago in a re-organization, and Ogul’s title at the time of his retirement in May 2011 was Program Officer with the Office of Citizen Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, State Department. At the time of his retirement, Ogul (who continues to work as a consultant specializing in world expos) shared with us a recap of some memorable roles and milestones – and some pictures – from his substantial world’s fair resume.

James Ogul with the British royal family at the US Pavilion, Vancouver Expo 86. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
James Ogul with the British royal family at the US Pavilion, Vancouver Expo 86. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was the site of James Ogul’s first involvement in world’s fairs – as one of the managers of an Atomic Energy Exhibit in the Hall of Science. He didn’t return to the expo scene again until 16 years later, but it was more or less continuous after that. In 1981, he signed on as an Exhibits Officer for the US Pavilion at Knoxville Expo 82 (theme: Energy). “My job there was to get all of the exhibit copy approved by the Department of Energy and look after the interactive touchscreen exhibits – which was the first application of this technology on such a large scale, and won the National Audio-Visual Association’s top achievement award for 1982,” said Ogul.

Then-Vice President George Bush tours the US Pavilion at Vancouver Expo 86 in company with James Ogul. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Then-Vice President George Bush tours the US Pavilion at Vancouver Expo 86 in company with James Ogul. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Following Knoxville, Ogul was appointed Exhibits Director for the U.S. Pavilion at New Orleans Expo 84. “Among other things, we had two 750 seat 3-D theaters, with a film by award winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim and an actual Space Shuttle – the one that was used for glide testing,” he recalled.

Although 1984 marks the last time the US hosted a world’s fair, the 1980s were a busy decade for expos, and from New Orleans, Ogul moved on to become Exhibits Director for the US Pavilion at Tsukuba Expo 85 in Japan. “Our pavilion was visited by the Emperor and Prime Minister.” Next, Ogul was Pavilion Director for the US presence at Vancouver Expo 86. “My duties included personally escorting Princess Diana and Prince Charles through the Pavilion as well as Vice President George H. W. Bush.” Ogul was not involved in the US presence at World Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia, but in 1988 served as staff director for an Interagency Task Force to develop plans for future participation in world’s fairs. He also served as US project coordinator for the US – Australia Maritime Gallery in the soon-to-open Australia Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbor. “The Gallery was a bicentennial gift to Australia.”
US Pavilion, Lisbon Expo 98. Photo: Gordon Linden
In 1992, Ogul served as Project Director and Pavilion Director for the US Pavilion at the expo in Seville, Spain. Following that he served as coordinator for the US Pavilion at the 1993 world expo in Taejon, Korea. In 1998 he assisted in the development of plans for US participation at Lisbon Expo 98. This was, Ogul pointed out, “the first US Pavilion to have an interactive Web site and a Scientific Advisory Board. It had a live satellite video presentation by President Clinton, who spoke to the expo community as part of US National Day. It featured a film entitled ‘Discover Planet Ocean,’ produced exclusively for the US Pavilion by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.”
USA Pavilion, Aichi 2005. Photo: Gordon Linden
The next expo, Hanover 2000, lacked a US presence: “We withdrew from Expo 2000 due to a lack of private sector support,” explained Ogul. There was a more positive outcome five years later, in Japan: Ogul served as a coordinator for US participation at Aichi Expo 2005. Following that, he was a member of the Shanghai Expo 2010 working group. “My role for Shanghai was coordinating the vetting of potential private sector partners,” he explained, “and I am currently doing the same in regard to Yeosu Expo 2012.”
For the ups and the downs of the US hosting and participating in world expos in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the beginning of the 21st century, James Ogul has been there.
*World’s Fair magazine is out of print, but publisher Alfred Heller is still following the expo scene.
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, publicist, strategist, blogger, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She excels at writing about all aspects of design and technical design, production and project management. Areas of special interest include AV integration and show control, lighting design and acoustics, specialty cinema, digital video and world’s fairs. Judith has ties to numerous industry organizations. From 2005-2020 she ran communications, publications and social media for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA, and co-chair of the 2014 IMERSA Summit. She was publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association in the 1990s, now part of the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) and has also contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Already making her mark as a magazine and book editor, Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. Launching as a freelancer in the mid 1990s she has contributed to dozens of publications and media outlets including Funworld, Lighting&Sound America, Sound & Communications, Urban Land, The Raconteur and The Planetarian. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. She has lived in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now makes her home in Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts and theater community.

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