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Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - The Oregon State Fair's corn dog vendors, food-chopper pitchmen and midway games have new neighbors. They're from the Oregon Country Fair. And they brought along a few touches to make themselves feel at home:

A 140-foot-long mural of a Pacific Islander named "Her," who lounges in beatific repose. Purple banners that flutter from artisan booths and primary-color fabric kites pinned to oak trees. A 7-foot-tall, 10-sided kaleidoscope built in 1999 to commemorate the Country Fair's 30th anniversary.

Oregon's country cousins of summer festivals, the Oregon State Fair and the Oregon Country Fair are collaborating for the first time as the state fair kicks off its 11-day run today.

Curly fries, meet organic salad. Poster-paint-on-plywood cow with rubber teats, say hi to acrylic-on-canvas woman with bell-bottoms, fairy wings and a Mardi Gras mask.

Talk about worlds colliding.

The Oregon Country Fair's venue at the Oregon State Fair is called LiveArt! With its nightly performances, vegetarian foods and a renowned artist's public-participation mural project, it's a counterculture oasis of peace, love and whimsy in the land of farm implements, monster squash and thrill rides.

As they prepared Thursday for opening day, people from both fairs agreed that they're perfect for each other. If there's been a culture clash, said Lin Wolfe, the Oregon State Fair's marketing director, it hasn't had anything to do with lifestyle or political issues.

"They're private nonprofit and we're government-bureaucratic," Wolfe said, noting that the state fair is part of state government and subject to its uber-regulatory ways.

Wolfe played a key role in bringing the Country Fair to the state fair. She was looking for a way to revitalize an area of the fairgrounds that had previously hosted Artisan Village, which "had gotten cheesier and cheesier over the years." Wolfe and other fair administrators wanted to bring back the artiness but without the tackiness. A couple of state fair staff members had been to another fair - the Oregon Country Fair - where art was a vital part of its essence.

The Country Fair, in its 37th year, operates for three days each July on its grounds near Veneta, about 15 miles west of Eugene.

Wolfe approached Oregon Country Fair manager Leslie Scott, and after much discussion and a presentation to the Oregon Country Fair board, it agreed to host a venue at the state fairgrounds in Salem.

As the state fair seeks to remain vital to a changing Oregon, it has been trying to turn over a portion of its operations to others. A Spanish-language radio station from the increasingly Latino community of Woodburn is running the fair's "La Plaza" as a venue to showcase Oregon's Hispanic culture, just as the Oregon Country Fair is hosting LiveArt!

Scott said she and others among the Oregon Country Fair faithful saw the invitation as an opportunity to take its Mother Earth vibe on the road. A big difference between the two locales is that the Country Fair itself is a place where like-minded people - from the hippie-wannabe visitors to the performance artists and long-time organizers - accept the festival's 1960s-rooted ethos.

She knows that some of the thousands of state fairgoers who happen by the Country Fair's LiveArt! won't all buy into its concept when they enter the venue.

And that's OK.

"It feels like a confluence of cultures," Scott said, calling the left-leaning Country Fair crowd and the more conservative farming and small-town visitors to the state fair "two of the strongest identities that Oregon has."

Portland architect and longtime Country Fair volunteer Kirk Schultz designed the layout of the LiveArt! venue. He said visitors shouldn't expect a "mini-Country Fair" - translation: Everyone should be fully clothed and don't expect any of the sweet-burnt smell of marijuana smoke wafting about.

"I think of it as the biggest collective art experience and that's what we're bringing here," he said.

The primary contributor to that experience will be a Chile-born artist who now lives in Los Angeles and has made murals at past Oregon Country Fairs. Francisco Letelier will be producing a four-panel mural mounted on a bridgelike structure. He hopes to enlist the help of other artists and fairgoers in brushing on acrylic paint to his sketches of a farmworker, a mountain man, a fairylike creature and scenes of Oregon farmlands and wild places.

After working on a similar public-participation mural that brought together Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, Letelier said he anticipates much common ground among the Country Fair's own crowd and those who flock to the Oregon State Fair.

And if some folks enter the LiveArt! arena as skeptics and leave with an appreciation for the Country Fair community's "belief in peace and life-affirming values," the self-described artist, poet and human rights activist said, then his art and the venue itself will have been a success.


Stephanie Barnes of Warren appears to have kaleidoscope eyes as she visits the LiveArt! area of the Oregon State Fair, which begins today in Salem and features elements of the Oregon Country Fair, including the mural `Her' (below).
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 26, 2005
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