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Neglecting World’s Fairs Doesn’t Make

ThemGo Away, So Let’s Do It Right



n the search for effective ways to

promote the United States abroad, the

Department of State has revived some

once standard, later abandoned public

diplomacy functions such as English-lan-

guage instruction and American Centers


American Spaces)

. Meanwhile,

participation in world’s fairs, incubated in

the same U. S. Information Agency womb,

is treated as an unwanted stepchild by the


Successful U.S. pavilions at four recent

fairs—Milan 2015, Yeosu 2012, Shanghai 2010 and Aichi 2005—welcomed a total o


20 million visitors. This and other achieve-

ments came at minimal cost to the U.S.

government, which relies on private-sector

funding to create andmanage our official


By comparison, American Spaces,

a current darling of public diplomacy,

boast smaller visitor numbers and bigger

budgets. The much touted space in Jakarta,

which explored the Shanghai Expo for

ideas, has cost roughly $20 million since

opening in 2010, while another $26 million

has gone to the new American Space in


Given past world’s fair successes, it

would be unfortunate if the challenges

we faced inMilan—and at earlier expos—

Our problems at recent expos show the

pitfalls of today’s limited engagement and

oversight by the department.

As consul general in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011, Beatrice Camp oversawU.S.

participation in China’s 2010 world’s fair; in 2014, she was recruited by the State

Department’s Bureau of European Affairs to coordinate participation in Expo Mi-

lano 2015. She recently retired from a Foreign Service career that took her to China,

Thailand, Sweden, Hungary, as well as to assignments at the department and at the

Smithsonian Institution inWashington, D.C. The opinions and characterizations in this piece are

those of the author and do not necessarily represent official positions of the U.S. government.


made the department even less eager

to sign on for future fairs. A better reac-

tion would be a dedication to doing it

right, with a strong partnership between

relevant bureaus and a real commitment

of resources.

Missing in Milan

Both of these were missing for Milan.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which traditionally had the lead

for world’s fairs, happily bowed out of

Milan when the Bureau of European Affairs (EUR) accepted the baton. De


initial enthusiasm, however, EUR limited

its investment to a one-person office in

EUR/PD and one additional officer in

Milan, while ECA adamantly declined any


Once upon a time, USIA’s Exhibits

Office and its expo unit had experienced

staff who knew how tomanage the pro-

cesses, anticipate problems and deal with

the many complex aspects of world’s fairs

from a long-termperspective, drawing

on the lessons of past expos and planning

years ahead. Our problems at recent expos

show the pitfalls of today’s limited engage-

ment and oversight by the department.

For Milan, the small group in EUR

that handled the 2013-2014 Request for

Proposal process, selection of a private-

sector partner, and signing of agreements

with the partner organization and the

Milan Expo authority had rotated out by

the time career officer coordinators were

positioned inWashington andMilan, the

pavilion was under construction, and

content was created and staff hired.

Almost no one thought to object when

the private-sector partner upped the

budget from $45 million to $60 million,

a little-noticed change that loomed large

the following year as fundraising fell short.

Reportedly, the Friends of the USA Pavilion

ended upmore than $20 million in debt,

leaving a wide swath of vendors awaiting


The budget shortfall was just one result

of the department’s failure to designate a

permanent office tomanage the complex

expo process; more fundamentally, and

longer-term, it means that decisions about

U.S. participation are dragged out until the

last possible minute, increasing the cost

and complexity involved in creating a pres-