You simply can’t miss him.
He’s the one gesturing, grasping the air like he’s grappling a wild animal, his face smiling, then grimacing, all while commanding attention at the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex.
Jim Cogan of Diamond Bar is in his element, grabbing attention of MSCAF visitors as he brings each L.A. County Fair art exhibit to life through fascinating stories.
Official teller-in-residence at MSCAF for four years, Cogan shares little-known accounts that flesh out what’s hanging on the walls and displayed on the floors. It is animated storytelling at its best – interactive, enthralling, and engaging.
He’s mesmerized school groups taking part in the FairKids Discovery Club Field Trips program each morning before the Fair opens. Thousands of students pass through MSCAF on guided tours specifically tailored to their age and interests.
His performances this year will again spark young imaginations because the exhibit is both fascinating and educational – From the Industrial Age to the Computer Age: Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation. Cogan started research at the close of the 2009 Fair, and this year’s repertoire not only explores the growth of the Industrial Age, but also how it affected society and the arts, both beneficially and detrimentally.
“An animated, engaging interactive story is what kids love and they get ‘it’ immediately,” Cogan explained, speaking from experience as a former teacher, journalist, Yosemite naturalist and historian. “When the light goes on in their heads, it reveals a timeless truth: Storytelling is an education process that cuts through all education styles.”
Cogan credits MSCAF director Tony Sheets for making art come alive through storytelling.
“Tony creates multidimensional exhibits that tell a story. This story will help kids to think outside the box by celebrating the people who did just that during the Industrial Revolution,” Cogan said. “They learn concepts like ‘If at first you don’t’ succeed…,” and experience the value of teamwork, perseverance and problem solving.
The exhibit helps them see the value of art education as they realize the importance of artistic design in creating so many of these inventions.
“Many of the great inventors solved their problems through artistic renderings,” he continued. And they used advanced artistic techniques to chronicle their discoveries, just as Morse, Edison and Darwin did with intricate drawings.
Conversely, the exhibit also explores how artists reacted to the adverse affects of technology as Cogan discusses the works of poets, artists and naturalist-philosophers – Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Blake, Wordsworth and the Hudson River School of artists.
Innovation takes many forms at the MSCAF. Dramatic “living history” presentations by actress Brenna Kelly of Pomona will depict the women and children who worked in factories and mills before unions and child labor laws. Students and weekend visitors will hear from another Kelly characterization, Emily Warren Roebling, the woman who built the Brooklyn Bridge. Kelly’s portrayals will also be popping up here and there creating “dramatic moments” in a world of revolutionary change.
In Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation, Cogan’s stories are compelling views behind the scenes at technological triumphs – the Transcontinental Railroad and the Brooklyn Bridge, the Stanley Steamer and the Model T Ford, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, Morse’s telegraph and Graham Bell’s telephone.
And his tales are not just for schoolchildren. Cogan will perform weekends at 1, 3 and 5 p.m., along with other docents who will be available to lead visitors through the gallery after the Fair opens each day. Cogan’s storytelling is also featured on push-button listening stations called kiosks located throughout MSCAF. To further engage visitors, Cogan and Sheets will create a self-guided program accessible by cell phone that complements the multimedia exhibit.
Cogan has toured the United States for 20 years presenting his nationally recognized Arts-in-Education assemblies for more than 200 schools each year. Performing as a featured storyteller, serving as emcee at many storytelling festivals, keynote speaker for conventions, workshop leader at educational conferences, and presenting his wacky and motivational summer reading programs libraries, he is one of the most active storytellers in the West.
One of his three spoken-word CDs, Participation Tales, received the Parent’s Choice Award. His work with history as story is published in Many Voices: True Tales of America’s Past and in a variety of articles in national periodicals and journals. He has appeared in a variety of educational programming including the popular PBS: Storytime.
MSCAF is a proud part of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliation Program. Through this partnership, the Center shares with the community the Smithsonian Institution’s artifacts, programs and expertise.
MSCAF is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
For more information about From the Industrial Age to the Computer Age . . . Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation at the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex, visit www.lacountyfair.com.
The L.A. County Fair is Sept. 4-Oct. 3. Hours are Sunday, Sept. 5, 10 a.m.-midnight; Monday, Sept. 6, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wednesdays, noon-10 p.m.; Thursdays, noon-11 p.m.; Fridays, noon-midnight; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-midnight; and Sundays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Under the direction of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, Fairplex is home to the L.A. County Fair, the largest county fair in the world, as well as The Learning Centers which encompasses Fairtime Learning, The Child Development Center, The Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC), the Junior Fair Board, and the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts. Fairplex also operates a diverse hospitality business with the Sheraton Fairplex, McKinley’s Grille, KOA RV Park, Finish Line Sports Grill, Cornucopia Foods, and the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel and Conference Center (opening 2011). The campus is also home to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum and the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona; horse-racing and Barretts Equine Limited; as well as the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. For more information, please visit www.fairplex.com.