Update: Fair Park Programming Recommendations

August 26, 2019

The following recommendations were provided to Fair Park First on August 15, 2019, following a community meeting that was held at Fair Park on August 13, 2019. Updates and further information will be posted in the future. Additional notes may be added to this page in the future for clarity. [A few notes in brackets were added in the event that these ideas may be considered in Houston.]

Programming and Museum Ideas for Fair Park


Fair Park is the most significant and valuable cultural resource in DFW and one of the most important in the state. It's a rare class that includes the Alamo and San Antonio Missions (which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and The Astrodome and NRG Park, which like Fair Park is highly utilized about 1/10 of the year and has enormous potential to increase activity and better utilize facilities during many other months.

Big and timely programs that really serve Dallas and Texas best, including a regular framework of daily programs that benefit and attract constant visitors to Fair Park, should be the focus. Some of the events should raise international interest or build academic credibility. The events and programs of the existing non-profits matter and should be valued, and there is an obvious need for revenue from rentals, but Fair Park First should be the leading programmer by utilizing the park every day of the year. Fair Park First's accomplishments should not be the existing programming; the existing programming should benefit and grow based on the day in, day out accomplishments of Fair Park First.

A major goal should be: Aim to do the most significant timely programming in the state and nation. As an important public resource, Fair Park should be relevant and topical. It should rank with the top cultural and educational attractions in the nation, in usefulness and in respect and admiration.

1. National and International Historic Events

a. 2036 will be the bicentennial of Texas and the centennial of the Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park. It sounds like a distant event, but vision planning and building community support will require many years, especially considering that the event should be a World's Fair (International Exposition), or at least take place on a scale that rivals a World's Fair. [2036 will be Houston's bicentennial and an equally impressive event should take place there, making it another possible location for the state's bicentennial or for a World's Fair.]

Host conferences and related cultural events leading up to the bicentennial. They should begin sooner than 2024. The programming for the Texas Bicentennial Exposition should at least double the activities and expand the timetable of the State Fair by a month or more, whether as the same event or separate events is to be determined. It should be a spectacle for the nation. And its imminent arrival will require that the City of Dallas, State of Texas and area corporations act sooner rather than later to do their part to improve the city and the area surrounding Fair Park. [Similarly, Houston's bicentennial should be significantly larger than it's Livestock Show and Rodeo.]

To prepare and motivate the necessary preparations, plan and host major events and conferences related to the Texas Bicentennial Exposition. There are several big possibilities that come up much sooner.

b. 2021 will be the bicentennial year of Mexican Independence (the end of the Mexican War of Independence in 1821). Texas and Mexico have a great deal in common, including history and culture, food traditions, music, arts, industries, and more. Some of the topics may be presented with celebrations for the community and visitors, as well as educational exhibits and academic activities (conferences, films, forums, panel discussions, etc). There is a large exhibit of Mexican art, history, pop culture and political memorabilia that is stored in San Antonio and it may be available. However, it would need to be investigated quickly as it has been exhibited in places like San Antonio's Museo Centro de Artes and it may be requested for other planned or scheduled exhibit sites. The family that privately owns the exhibit may know potential sponsors. Some challenges the exhibit has faced include: it is very large, requiring about 10,000 square feet of space; and its subject matter is diverse, rather than just an art or history exhibit suited to one kind of museum. Fair Park may be an ideal location for it and the timing of historic events may help draw interest and provide context. The Mexican Consulate would most certainly participate and help facilitate cultural exchange, and there are numerous high quality arts and culture performances available locally and around the state. And there are many connections to literature and films that would add to the festivities.

c. 2027 will be the quincentennial (500 year anniversary) of the first Spanish exploration of the Gulf Coast and Texas. It was a failed attempt at Spanish colonization that resulted in one of the world's most epic adventures (ranked with the stories of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta) and was told by Cabeza de Vaca in his journal. That historic book covers events 500 years ago (1526-1536) and, along with a report made jointly by Cabeza de Vaca and three other survivors (of about 300 who set out in the interior), it is the oldest written first-hand account of any place in the modern boundaries of the US. The historic events call for a focus on literature and academic research, as well as cultural exchange with other states and nations that are directly connected to the history of the centuries-old events, including Florida, Spain, Canary Islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, and potentially France and Portugal. [Louisiana should be included and would make this a good opportunity for activities in Houston, especially since much of this activity took place on the shared Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast.]

The need to explore the historic events described above through academic research opens up the opportunities to connect to universities and host conferences. There are several models for this, including the state and national events that were planned for the 2004-2006 Lewis and Clark bicentennial. While it may be acceptable to present cultural celebrations for Mexican Independence, it is more appropriate to present educational opportunities for the events that brought Spanish, Africans and other foreign peoples into contact with Native Americans, and it may result in the creation of an important museum, as well as designation a National Historical Trail.

2. Museums

a. Museum of Culture

One of the best and least utilized possibilities for a museum is a Museum of Culture. I have presented the concept in Houston and there is a possibility of something like it existing in the Houston Astrodome someday, though the progress on utilization of the Dome is very slow. Should one result there, it opens tremendous possibilities to collaborate with another in Dallas.

A Museum of Culture is a great fit for Texas cities, which are diverse, internationally connected and have an impact on the ways of life of people around the world. Dallas has a museum about its history and culture, but it generally covers only local topics. A Museum of Culture should not be strictly identity based, as many cultural centers are, but rather about ways of life of all people around the world, some common and some specific to certain cultures. Because it has topical crossover with art, history and science museums, but does not take the place of any of those, it is the ideal addition to a city with good museums that cover those areas. A museum of culture is a museum about past, present and future. It can cover subjects from anthropology and history, like the origins of civilizations and their agricultural developments and economies, as well as modern interests and issues, including occupations, social life, entertainment and migration of people around the world. It can explore how developments in the future will affect our ways of life, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machines and robots in traditional labor forces, and the impact of climate change on the environment and our lifeways.

(To demonstrate its versatility, the following is a random and partial list of many of the subjects that can be included in a Museum of Culture: foods, agriculture, languages, religions, anthropology, history, literature, education, dwellings, architecture, construction, interior design, decoration, furnishings, occupations, social life, holiday traditions, beverage industries, industrial developments, media, radio/television, social media, activism, entertainment, music, comedy, art, craft, folk art, visionary/outsider art, textiles, clothing, fashion, travel, trade, cultural exchange, business, politics, political science, social science, communication, computers, engineering, technology, photography/imaging, industries, hospitality, transportation, future studies, space exploration/human life in space, medicine, epidemiology, medical industry, health, nutrition, science, machines, robots, economics, sports, games, celebrity, film, theater, crime, war, law, humanity, human development, psychology, human relations (sex, race, group dynamics, public opinion, etc), civilizations, globalization, civil and human rights, genealogy, genetics, genetic engineering, gender, youth, sustainability, advertising, graphic design, identity, childhood development, toys, nostalgia, and more.)

A Museum of Culture builds on the historic themes found at Fair Park and developed through the Texas Centennial Exposition, like the Texas Foods area, the Halls of Religion and State, the later project for a Women's Museum, and numerous subjects like agriculture, automobiles, athletics, occupations, social life, and the site's historic architecture. It also ties in with organizations that operate on the Fair Park grounds today. [Nothing had more impact on our ways of life in the arena or sportss and entertainment like the Houston Astrodome, which is one reason it makes tremendous sense to host a similar museum.]

The Smithsonian is basically the national museum of culture and it is very popular with guests from around the nation and the world, as it serves about 30 million visitors annually. It provides great examples for program possibilities, including the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, as well as vast new ideas and potential for collaboration. There is no end to the potential of a Museum of Culture, which may be best called the Texas Museum of Culture. [Given the stand-alone qualities of Houston in the state, sharing more with the Gulf Coast states and Mexico than the Great Plains and Desert Southwest, Houston Museum of Culture is the best name for a museum there.]

It is important to know that the addition of quality museums will not detract from existing ones, but rather will build exponential support and increase visitors for them.

Though they may serve 2-5 million visitors, the origination of a major museum is challenging. The best approach may be one that serves the mission of Fair Park [or the Astrodome] well by ramping up programming and audience development, while simultaneously engaging universities throughout the region. Because a Museum of Culture would include most all of the kinds of subjects explored by faculty and students in universities (social sciences, future studies, education, technology, transportation, hospitality, etc) and all the diverse experiences of the people's lives, academic and community involvement would be key to the establishment and content of the museum. Fair Park First should forward the project through arts and education programs and by hosting major touring exhibits. At a strategic point in development, a founding board would be established. [A Museum of Culture in the Astrodome may also take interest in the visionary and outside arts that are prominent on the Gulf Coast, but without limiting it audience to just those, since the larger interests to be discovered in a broader Museum of Culture will ultimately sustain the museum.]

[If done properly and presented as a museum of the future (inspiring the future of museum, research and education techniques) with the goal to rank amoung the best and most relevent in the world by demonstrating the interests and impacts of our ways of life, rise of civilizations and ideals of humanity in the world (past, present and future), the museum could be of the highest value and rise to the level of a major National Park or Smithsonian unit.]

b. Museum of Spanish and Native American History

Another excellent and geographically relative idea for a museum in the North Texas region is one that utilizes the central position of Dallas-Worth in the history of the Spanish Entradas and the diversity of indigenous cultures. The earliest Spanish explorations in the modern United States approached the region from different directions. A survivor of the Narvaez expedition, Cabeza de Vaca approached from the south, trading goods with indigenous peoples in the Piney Woods along the Red, Sabine and Trinity rivers. Survivors of the DeSoto expedition surveyed the land from the east as they crossed over Arkansas moved into central Texas. And, Coronado approached from the west as he and his army of Spaniards and Aztecs crossed over New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

The Blackland Prairie and the Crosstimbers that divide Dallas and Fort Worth also represent the divide between Native Americans that came from different ways of life. The Caddo and other cultures to the east built fixed dwellings and were farming peoples. The Comanche and others to the west were more nomadic and subsisted largely on hunting. Add to that, the lesser known impact of ancient puebloan peoples who inhabited the high plains in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle region, and the potential content of a topical, historical museum becomes tremendously exciting. There are many opportunities for collaboration with other institutions and an important function may be the possible collection of artifacts in the region that are in danger of being lost forever.

c. American Music Museum

Cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston have much greater historic impact on Texas and American music than Austn, but the capital city has been far more proactive in establishing itself as the "music capital". It will soon open the state's official music museum, which was introduced in legislation by Fort Worth-area representatives. Houston and DFW may have missed a phenomenal opportunity due to taking such a laissez-faire approach to their own cultural histories, even as other cities in the nation were making substantial gains from cultural tourism, but there is still potential and visitor interest for a major museum about music (local, Texas, American and even international music) in Dallas. It may connect with and be an affiliate of the Texas State Music Museum. It could collaborate with universities and national institutions, such as the Smithsonian. It could potentially acquire music memorabilia collections in the DFW area. And, most of all, it can be a highly interactive museum with live performances, conferences and panel discussions.

d. A Nature and Culture Fine Arts Gallery

Establish a gallery for photo exhibits and resources based on fine art quality photography of nature, culture and travel interests that are rarely included in fine art museums, but extremely popular with many communities. There is great potential to generate earned revenue through a percentage of sales, which is typically done by art galleries.

e. Touring Exhibits

Whether related to the museum and gallery concepts above or not, there are numerous possibilities to present touring exhibits. Some are very large and complex, while others are small and very simple.

[f. Oceanography

Houston should have a great museum of oceanography and marine archaeology and, as a companion to Space Center Houston, it may be called Ocean Center Houston.]

3. Major Events and Festivals

a. Art Car Trail Ride

Two of the most popular and iconic events in Houston, Texas are the Rodeo (HLSR) Trail Rides (which culminate in a downtown parade) and the Houston Art Car Parade. Likewise, car shows are very popular in the DFW area. Parades, however, are challenging and can have excessive prohibitive costs.

The Houston Art Car Parade attracts over 100,000 people and would most surely be enjoyed by people across DFW. Timing for a related event should be in early May, about three weeks after the Houston event.

The concept of an Art Car Trail Ride is to invite art car artists from Houston and around the U.S. to come and exhibit their creations at Fair Park. The Trail Ride component may feature small groups of art cars caravanning to Dallas and should include one or more stops in small communities on the way, as well as a visit to a DFW-area elementary school.

b. Dallas International Festival

This is a concept that comes from the once very popular and successful Houston International Festival, at its zenith attracting 800,000 to over a million people over four weekend days. Its programming was far ahead of the level of cultural literacy and cross-cultural interests of Dallas in its time, so the idea may now be timely in Dallas, as it is better recognized and more open to aspirations to be an international city. [The event could also be brought bacck in Houston and would continue to be extremely popular.]

The Houston International Festival featured the highest caliber of talent from the region and around the world on multiple stages, as well as local arts and culture groups, food vendors, jurored artists, and activities for children. The festival featured a nation (India, Ireland, Brazil, etc) or region (like the Caribbean) as its theme, which had its ups and downs, because some countries are more known for popular entertainment and cultural interests than others.

A presentation of two or three major themes (like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as a model) would likely be better. Another major downfall of the Houston International Festival, which came to an end about five years ago, was that it took place in a variety of downtown Houston parks and required street closures, and the city began to see it as a cash cow and it could not make the transition into the mid-high range ticket prices of many modern festivals and it did not have the deeper historic roots of an event like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Fair Park is a more ideal location than downtown Houston, or downtown Dallas for that matter, for a similar event. An exceptional event should be possible, based on the events mentioned, as well as some other possible models, with costs remaining more reasonable than what the event described as Houston's flagship festival faced.

c. New Year's Eve Festival

Salt Lake City hosted a very successful event that at one time was called the First Night Festival. Its name has changed a couple times (as it first evolved into Eve, and lately has been promoted as Last Hurrah), but its format remains similar to the original concept. While it is a single day event (a New Year's Eve celebration), its strength is that it takes place in a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces simultaneously, and it offers activities to suit a wide variety of interests, from a Native American powwow to Asian cultural performances and youth group presentations to top quality entertainers, capped with a fireworks display. There is most always snow and bitter cold temperatures in Salt Lake City during that time of year, but the event is always comfortable because attendees can alternate between indoor and outdoor activities. As a model, it could be useful for building a long-standing tradition in Dallas (which has struggled to have a great NYE tradition), since inclement weather can also be a factor in North Texas.

d. Mardi Gras Winter Market

Winter is a challenging time for programming, but daytime temperatures are often moderate in North Texas. A Mardi Gras Winter Market, taking place on weekends through January into mid February, would be a fun weekend activity and should feature local artists, local fresh farm produce (if that's possible), locally-made preserved goods (like wines and jams), and lively, regionally-themed music. Beignets and hot chocolate vending would make the Mardi Gras theme fun and attractive for the community.

e. Christmas and Other Holiday Season Events

There are possibilities, large and small, for holiday villages and markets, but plans as simple as atmospheric lighting in a portion of the park can make an attractive setting for visitors to multiple holiday season events, like a local artisan gift market and post-Christmas Kwanzaa events.

f. Youth Summer Camps

The summer should feature a full lineup of camp and research activities, as well as community involvement, for students from across the DFW area.

4. Park Grounds

a. Wildflower Fields and Seed Farm

Wildflowers are one of the biggest tourism draws in Texas. Fields along Texas highways become major attractions in April and May. Wildflowers are the central focus of spring tourism for some Texas towns and the state has developed the impressive National Wildflower Research Center in Austin. There are cases where seed farms, like Wildseed Farms, and other sizable seasonal flower gardens, like Texas Tulips, which is expanding to a second location in Texas, are successful financial operations. Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas is a great example of a thriving business built on the popularity of wildflowers in the Hill Country, as it has grown to be a major event center that also offers a restaurant, local wine events and a large retail operation.

Some of the areas, like asphalt-covered parking lots, in Fair Park that are to be returned to green space could benefit from being wildflower fields, because of the seasonal nature of wildflowers, as well as their enormous popularity. While the fields may be the setting for visitors to wander and take photos in late spring, they would be available for festival seating in summer and fall, as well as fall activities of the State Fair. In winter, the grounds would need to be seeded, but may be useful for the winter Mardi Gras market described above.

Other green areas could be developed into flowering gardens that are planned to enhance the population of migrating butterflies.

b. Historic Architecture

There is substantial historic art and architecture on the grounds of Fair Park, as well as throughout the Metroplex. Fair Park should host architectural symposiums and building arts demonstrations, as well as originate architectural tours of the region. Additional demonstrations and outdoor symposiums related to nature, gardens and conservation can be considered. [The Astrodome is, as well, a significant recognizable historic site, based on its architecture and its impacts on culture.]

c. Circuit Paths

Something like the Dallas Grand Prix [or the Houston Grand Prix] is unlikely to be feasible, but the concept of one or more circuits for leisure walking, jogging and cycling is achievable. Scheduled events during certain months could attract thousands of participants. A marathon or half marathon is possible, as well as leisure and competitive cycling events. The events could also build advocacy for even greater connections for walkers and cyclists to the city. A competitive recreational event could be grown into one with a national or international reputation.

A circuit may also be used for more low-impact competitive auto events and demonstrations, like solar-powered vehicles, autonomous self-driving cars and supermileage competitions. [Outside the Astrodome, these may be established in the larger NRG Park.]

d. Connectivity and Usability

While park space within Fair Park is important, Fair Park First should advocate for better connectivity to parks and districts in the surrounding area. It is a critical need for Fair Park and for Dallas to be successful. A major project should be for TXDOT to lower I-30 between Fair Park and Deep Ellum, and to work with the City of Dallas to place parkspace, similar to Klyde Warren Park, over the Interstate. Additional connectivity (improved walkability, cycling/bike lanes, streetcars, automated transit, creative services and businesses, etc) is needed between Fair Park and other major parks and districts, including the Trinity River corridor and the Dallas Arts District, among others.

While the addition of park space is to satisfy requirements to improve the community, it should be done in conjunction with strategy to increase visitors and meet their needs, as well. After all, increased funds coming into the area will be one means of promoting community improvement. One possibility for potential park area on the south side of Fair Park, where there are currently parking lots, is to enhance the kinds of services traveling visitors may need (e.g. picnic grounds, restrooms, a dog park, etc). And scale should be considered, as well, to accommodate greater success.

If the park is successful in rebuilding museum operations, visiting school groups will come in large numbers. Many museum and park locations that attract school groups achieve numbers that range from 100,000 to 500,000. They often pack lunches and large ice chests full of beverages. Large picnic grounds are needed and heavily utilized. Large recycling receptacles are necessary. If that success can be achieved (as it should) at Fair Park, the park area designated to serve as a gathering point for the student groups should include school bus loading/unloading lanes. They will serve adult visitors arriving by tour or charter buses, as well. Most of this type of activity will take place during weekdays, leaving the space available for community activities during afternoons and evenings, and weekends. The park area should host (or serve as additional gathering space) for cultural and historic celebrations, like Juneteenth and Diez y Seis.

e. State Cultural (Arts) District

Fair Park is often described as a cultural district, but it should build up its programs and credentials, and work to achieve an official designation as a State of Texas Cultural District through the Texas Commission on the Arts. The Dallas Arts District is currently the only place in Dallas that holds this distinction, whereas five districts in Houston and three in San Antonio were qualified and approved.

5. Increased Performances

a. Involvement of Non-profit Arts Producing Organizations

Using the model of Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston, a program can be established that subgrants funds to non-profit organizations that are high quality performing arts producers. The funds could be acquired through larger grants with the planned intention to subgrant them, or though request of the city for access to Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. This makes it possible to basically double (or more than double) the funding that is put toward a line of excellent programs through matching funds requirements, and it usually attracts funds from outside the region (state and federal grants, and corporate sponsorship), making it possible to bring outside money into the community. Some of the programs may be series or festivals, while others may be single presentations and serve significant traditions and holidays, but all would enhance opportunities for cultural experience across communities and improve the quality of life in Dallas.

b. Fair Park First Productions

In the very successful model of Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre, where producing organizations plan and fund performances (first, through a grant process; and second, though their efforts to meet matching funds requirements), the managing organization Miller Theatre Advisory Board is also an event producer. Fair Park First should also take on this role in a series of high profile events that fill out an annual season of diverse opportunities for the greater Dallas community.

Daily production that serve to attract daily visitors should also be planned. They can be offered as series that fall on certain days of the week (e.g. Fall Food Truck Wednesday with Live Music).

c. High Quality Performances

While Dallas has developed a bizarre attraction to cover and tribute bands, causing a net loss of valuable arts appreciation and cultural competency, and making it oddly necessary to host some events that feature tribute artists just to build audience, a large amount of music programming should feature original music, regional cultural traditions, and high quality and nationally-recognized legacy-based artists. It is an important direction for Dallas to be taken seriously as a meritorious arts city and for Fair Park First to be capable to achieve substantial arts grants, like an NEA Our Town grant and other federal grants. Building a track record working with highly qualified and revered musicians, and building a solid program history of at least three years in action (and to start right away) is important.

6. Organizations

a. Clubs and Associations

The organizations that operate in facilities at Fair Park serve an important purpose for the venue and the greater DFW area, but there is a need in Dallas and the potential to incubate more quality organizations through Fair Park First, utilizing facilities and grounds of Fair Park.

Gardening cubs, youth advocacy, arts, photography, genealogy, recreation and many more kids of interests can be served through clubs and associations that can easily be established at Fair Park. A good organizational model is the Campus Activities operations found at most universities, as they provide guidelines, guidance, meeting facilities and other support. Activities can be offered to build interest, such as photo tournaments, where the association would host days that invite top professional and amateur photographers to achieve award-winning photos, to be judged by a panel or committee at the conclusion of the day. These kinds of activities would generate extensive publicity for Fair Park. Some clubs may improve the Fair Park gardens and grounds, while others may provide outreach and advocacy for surrounding communities.

b. Environmental Education and Participation

An organization established through Fair Park First could provide programs to advance curriculum about benefits of trees (cleaner air, lower temperatures, reduced heat island effect, improved communities and higher property values) from hands-on youth programs to adult continuing education; and plan simple participatory events, such as walks in the park, gardening days and tree planting ceremonies. Corporate sponsors could likely be identified to support and promote these kinds of healthy community activities.

7. Film and Media Resources

a. Film Series - Screen rare and/or acclaimed films based on nature, environment and related themes, as well as art and conceptual films, and documentaries. An ideal space for this is not excessive, but rather small as the ideal size of an audience with a presenter or panel may be 75-150 people.

b. Media Center - Development of an audience for high quality media, oral histories and citizen journalism could lead to the development of a media production studio, or an even more unique media arts and performance center that may build on a few pioneering examples and set new standards in the nation for narrative arts. The center may lead to increased script writing, media production and location filming in DFW.

8. Green-friendly Discounts

On days when parking is likely to be congested and problematic, offer Green Discounts (on-the-spot vouchers) to reduce fees (if a festival has an admission charge) or provide other discounts for people using alternative transportation (e.g. cyclists, pedestrians, rideshare users, DART passengers, etc).

Music performance by Chubby Carrier during the State Fair of Texas
Chubby Carrier performs during the State Fair of Texas. Music is a part of the annual fair, and while it is very popular in Dallas, music is underutilized during the State Fair and even moreso at Fair Park throughout the rest of the year.


We produced the Big 5 for Big D in August 2017. One year later, Dallas was on the verge of an important new development, new management for Fair Park, so we updated our five biggest initiatives for the future DFW Supercity. The five most important initiatives have not changed, but the ability to affect change may improve dramatically if Dallas and Fair Park First take the right course of action.

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