County Fair competitions draw thousands of participants

A+San+Diego+County+Fair+2012+exit+poll+indicated+nearly+half+of+the+1.5+million+fairgoers+who+attended+last+year+also+visited+the+competition+showcases%2C+according+to+Student+Showcase+Coordinator+Neil+Bruington.+%28North+Coast+Current+photo+illustration%29

A San Diego County Fair 2012 exit poll indicated nearly half of the 1.5 million fairgoers who attended last year also visited the competition showcases, according to Student Showcase Coordinator Neil Bruington. (North Coast Current photo illustration)

Paige Nelson

Inside the Grandstand at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, volunteers sort through an array of colorful jams brought in by entrant Star Slipock.

Slipock has been making her homemade jams for 41 years and entering them into the Home and Hobby Competition at the San Diego County Fair since 1975.

“I have a whole box of ribbons at home,” Slipock said. “The best year was when I won the blue ribbon for my strawberry jam.”

Winning a blue ribbon at the County Fair has been a tradition cherished by participants like Slipock for decades. Each year, thousands of people enter their artwork, homemade goods, collections and more into the various competitions in hopes of walking away with the prestigious award, bragging rights and even a little cash.

“I think participants have a lot of fun,” said Photo Exhibition Coordinator Ron Ham. “It’s a great learning opportunity and motivates them to work harder if they don’t win anything the first time around.”

The theme of this year’s fair, opening June 8, is “Game On,” a tribute to America’s board and video games. The Grandstand and Turf Club house the majority of competitions, including the Exhibitions of Fine Art and Photography, the Student Showcase and the Home and Hobby Competition.

Students throughout San Diego County, grades seven through 12 or in community college, are invited to submit their work to the showcase beginning in mid-February. Student Showcase Coordinator Neil Bruington said this year the student showcase alone received more than 9,000 entries from about 50 different areas.

Other competitions, such as Home and Hobby, are open to everyone nationwide, making it one of the largest exhibitions on the West Coast.

Bruington said preparation for the competitive exhibits and Student Showcase begins as early as fall, starting with the competition handbook. Based on feedback collected from the previous year, organizers add or delete judging categories.

“Every year we subtly mold the show,” Ham said. “We have to make adjustments to the categories depending on what kind of entries we receive.”

All participants have until late April to submit their entries online and must also deliver their entries in person on one of two later dates in May.

Assistant Fine Arts Coordinator Kathy Thompson said volunteers dedicated countless hours to first sorting through the entries and then deciding how they will be displayed. Wall space in the building is limited, so partition panels, risers and cabinets are brought in to make more room.

“You never know what’s going to come through the door,” Thompson said. “It’s really a wild card. You just try to make it work.”

The 2012 exit poll indicated nearly half of the 1.5 million fairgoers who attended last year also visited the showcases, Bruington said. Organizers are anticipating a record-breaking turnout this year and are working hard to ensure the displays are in tip-top shape.

“If you’re going to bring something out and show it at the fair, in essence you’re bringing it to a gallery,” Bruington said. “This ‘gallery’ has a higher turnout and a broader audience than any other in the county of San Diego.”

Thompson said the exhibition at the fair is a great venue for artists to gain exposure and also turn a profit if they decide to sell their work.

“We’re here for them,” Thompson said. “If curators don’t know what they’re missing, they will after coming here.”

Paige Nelson is a San Diego freelance writer and photographer