U.S. Shuns World's Fair-like Expositions

A 1999 law forbids the State Department from funding pavilions at international expositions. Fred Bernstein argues that the law is misguided, and should be changed before the next year's World's Fair in Shanghai.

"Next year, the eyes of the world will be on Shanghai, where the Chinese government will host a world exposition (informally called a world's fair) from May 1 to October 31. Nearly 200 countries are building pavilions, many by important architects chosen in national competitions. The host city will try to match the showmanship of last summer's Beijing games, and, unlike the made-for-television Olympics, the expo will likely attract tens of millions of Chinese visitors."

"That the United States wouldn't attend a giant international gathering, at a time when so much is at stake in U.S.–Chinese relations, seems unimaginable. Sadly, though, it is not unprecedented. The U.S. embarrassed itself with a tacky pavilion at the Seville expo in 1992 (timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage, with the U.S. meant to be the guest of honor). It ignored the next expo (in Hannover, Germany, in 2000), insulting a crucial ally. At the insistence of Toyota, whose retired chairman conceived the 2005 expo in Aichi, Japan, the U.S. did have a pavilion. But the building's creators, who had to rely on corporate funding, put more thought into the VIP suite (where those sponsors could entertain clients) than into the main event, a film about Benjamin Franklin."

Full Story: Comment: Worlds Away



The article's wrong: US law does not forbid funding Expos

I will reply more fully on the original article's blog.

But just to set the record straight, the 1991 law that governs US participation on Expos puts minimal strictures on State Dept. spending and none at all on spending for Expo by other agencies of government -- especially Commerce and least of all, the Congress itself.

In 2006, the Bush Administration, seeking to get by on the cheap, decided to forego public funding for Shanghai. After all, it had already managed to get Japan to pay for a "US pavilion" at Aichi in 2005 (weak though that experience turned out to be). In 2008, the State Department secretly authorized a private party, without competition or public comment, to pursue private funds. When it got authorized, it agreed to the Bush Administration's terms, so it has only itself to blame that the funding remains inadequate. In fact, that group resigned once already, in 2008, and has had to be resurrected using Chinese money (a major loss of face). Its pavilion plan is big, bloated, and so conventional and unchallenging that raising a dime is difficult.

For more information, read "Pavilion Wars" in Atlantic Monthly, April 9, 2009,


Or visit BH&L Group's Facebook Page, http://tinyurl.com/bhlgroup-org

Thanks for getting the story right. It should matter to all Americans, especially urban planners who are given a large section of the Expo to show off their best work. Ironic that some American cities should be there but the national pavilion is still in doubt!

PS My wants a chance at doing a 21st-Century US National Pavilion. We were the finalist in the State Dept.'s aborted 2007 Expo RFP. And just to be open, Urban Insights' Chris Steins is on our Advisory Board.

Robert Jacobson, PhD
Communications & Technology
Core Team, BH&L Group
Santa Monica, California USA

520-726-7267 office
520-370-1259 mobile
Skype: bob.jacobson

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