Most Western Montana Fair events cancelled; county approves $20K to cover exhibits

The Western Montana Fair won’t include a carnival, entertainment or concessions this year, though the county may hold a limited rodeo if it can raise the funding and allow 4H students to showcase their animals.

Fairgrounds organizers on Monday asked Missoula County commissioners to contribute $20,000 to cover expenses associated with this year’s limited events, most of which will be closed to the general public.

“Everything has been so up in the air for so long,” said fairgrounds director Emily Brock. “We’ve thrown everything we have at the wall to see what will stick. This is what we’re landing on in terms of what we think will really work this year.”

As proposed, 4H will go forward under new guidelines, including social distancing and no open class livestock. Parents won’t be permitted in the barn while students show their animals, and animals may not be washed on the grounds.

Brock said they’ll show one species a day and film the showing on MCAT. The event will be closed to the general public.

“This proposal is a $21,000 expense,” said Brock. “We’re estimating we can bring in $15,000 in scholarships, so the cost to the county would be about $5,000.”

The fairgrounds also plans to move forward with still exhibits, though they too will be closed to the public. Artisans will be asked to make an appointment to bring their craft to the fairgrounds where it will be filmed.

A collection of entries will be compiled in a video and the winning artisans will be announced during fair week. Exhibits will cover most traditional entries, except food, and include a new collection aimed at portraying the pandemic.

“The total expense is about $19,000,” said Brock. “We think we can get about $5,000 in sponsorships and the cost incurred by the county would be about $14,000.”

Given the pandemic, organizers have canceled this year’s carnival and the planned motor sports event. Bingo, which Brock described as a popular event, also is canceled, and no entertainment is planned.

Concessionaires opted not to participate due the lack of public attendance.

“We threw it out there that concessions could come in with what we have,” Brock said. “But it doesn’t pencil for them. They opted not to participate.”

County officials have stated their revenue concerns over the past few months and have asked the state’s congressional delegation to widen CARES Act funding regulations to cover lost revenue due to the pandemic and its economic impacts.

“It makes a lot of sense to stay the course with 4H as presented, but to play devils advocate, what’s the value associated with retaining the still or open exhibits when that’s clearly going to be the class of exhibits that are running in the red here the most?” asked commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

Brock said the exhibits “showcase a really important sector of Missoula,” and said the COVID exhibit will capture the moment’s history.

“It’s an important way to bring folks in the community together,” she said. “I think we can do it and still have that feeling of camaraderie and highlight some of the craft and arts that really aren’t highlighted anywhere else in the community.”

Brock said if turnout is low, they wouldn’t move forward with the event.

“We won’t give a prize, or premium award to something that only had a few entries,” she said.

Commissioners maintained their revenue concerns on Monday but permitted the event to go forward and cover the $20,000 cost.

“It’s quite likely that some folks will be of the mind that in a year like this we ought not be engaging in something that puts us more in the red,” said Strohmaier. “But it’s not just a simple cost benefit analysis form the financial side. There’s value the community derives from this investment.”