Arts’ Watch: The Kentucky State Fair

Published 6:00 am Saturday, August 26, 2023

By Bill McCann


The Kentucky State Fair closes on Sunday, Aug. 27, so today and tomorrow are your last chances to visit this year’s homage to Kentucky’s farms, farmers and creative people. The fair opens at 10 a.m. and costs $10, though some events, such as Thrill Ville (midway rides), cost more.

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As I’ve gotten older, the Tilt-a-Whirl is not nearly so eye-catching as the whirls and swirls that are occasionally to be seen in photographs, quilts or vegetables. My wife and I have entered antiques, photographs, vegetables, pickles and chocolate chip cookies in county fairs over the years, winning the occasional blue ribbon. And the Kentucky State Fair is among my favorite fairs, despite never getting a ribbon, not even an honorable mention.

This year was no exception.

We had a grand time. Ice cream, gyros, drinks, and candy filled us up. What we saw gave us visions of what category we might enter next year because every trip to the fair reminds us of how talented and interesting our state is.

We saw children as young as five put pigs through their marketing paces using switches to maneuver their much larger charges gently and to receive ribboned recognition for their efforts; older children and adults showed off their horses (and their outfits) at the horse show; we saw the largest pumpkins and watermelons grown here in Kentucky, while not far away were both the largest and smallest tomatoes as well as corn, tobacco, hay, peppers, zucchini and much more evidence of the talent of Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and, of course, farmers.

The home gardener in me came away inspired, as always.

Of course, I am always inspired by many artists. This year, there were terrific miniatures, ranging from a mall parking lot filled with cars and possibilities to the more expected houses decorated for tiny home decorator showcases; there were Lego displays as well as cakes, baked goods, home-brewed beers and wines, photographs, sculptures, quilts and paintings.

This year the fair seemed quieter than in years past. I guess that because we were there on a weekday and the politicians were elsewhere. The booth of State Treasurer Alison Ball was empty except for a small sign that reminded passers-by that she had returned $170 million in unclaimed property to taxpayers. There was no evidence of either gubernatorial candidate. And the person at the attorney general’s booth looked lonely enough that I felt compelled to wave to him—and to receive a sad, weak smile in return.

Still, it is always the artists—photographers, painters, sculptors, those who set up superb arrangements of flowers or aquariums evoking visions of underwater paradises, the bakers and cake decorators—who inspire me. And always, I am disappointed that the writers—poets, short story writers, playwrights, or songwriters—are left out.

There is one weekend left of this year’s Kentucky State Fair, the only event I know of that allows everyone from 5 to 95 to participate. Whether you attend because you have an entry or go because you want to enjoy seeing the largest watermelon, the tiniest pepper, the best of show in the horse show, or hear the winning rooster in the crowing contest—even a city slicker can find some aspect of Kentucky’s farm community to crow about.

And if you are an artist there is lots to see. Artists from elementary schools to senior citizens have produced works of imagination and artistry that will inspire you.

The fair is America’s largest air-conditioned indoor state fair. So, while it may be close to 100 degrees outside, you can be cool—most of the time. Indeed, unless you step out for a deep-fried Oreo, fresh, squeezed lemonade, a meal of Kentucky Proud Products or a donut burger—most events are in a fantastic exhibit hall or tent. Indoor exhibits and events close at 6 p.m. Outdoor events and the Thrill Ville close at 10 p.m.

Bill McCann may be reached at