For Donna Kiger, arts and photography superintendent for the 2019 NC State Fair, the show must go on.
Of course, in order to go on, the show must start in the first place. As superintendent of the arts and photography competition – one of the fair’s largest – Kiger’s primary job is making sure that happens.
This is the first year that Kiger will take over as arts and photography superintendent, but she is not brand new to the competition, having volunteered for several years prior to taking the lead. Becoming superintendent was not necessarily her plan, she said, but rather the result of timing and opportunity.
“The lady who was doing it before, she had been doing it for quite a long time, and she had been looking for a replacement. The first year I worked, she had a replacement that was training, and then the next year when she was supposed to take over, she backed out,” Kiger said with a laugh. “When I came back, the previous superintendent thought I had the qualities to be superintendent, by being very organized. And so, she trained me for about two years, and I’m getting thrown in there this year.”
The first of Kiger’s responsibilities is making sure there is enough staff to cover the three phases of the competition.
“So we set up, then the fair and then we have tear down. So it’s making sure we have the right staff and that I’m leading them in the right way of what needs to be done during those three segments,” she said.
Kiger is not actually an artist herself. Her background lies more in property management and event planning, skills which are helpful in bringing together such a complicated show. Her staff includes people with knowledge in art, a perspective she uses to make more informed decisions for the show.
“I make sure we’ve gone through the rules, any rule changes that we’ve made. I do have someone working for me that has a knowledge of art, so I sat down with her to make sure that what’s in these rules makes sense to someone who is an artist,” she said. “We go through the rules each year making sure they make sense, and if there’s anything that needs to be changed, we do that.”
From staffing and rulemaking to coordinating the art intake and setting up the physical displays, there is no shortage of work to be done ahead of time. That is all before the competition begins in earnest.
The competition consists of several categories covering a range of ages and skill levels, including professional adults, amateur adults, middle and high schools, elementary schools, and individual students who are not affiliated with a school taking part in the event.
“As a superintendent you need to be organized and very structured, and you need to be able to put the show together. I have a background in doing events like weddings, so I like taking a vision of something I see in my mind and making it happen,” she said. “When you’re putting the competition together, that’s what you’re doing.”
Each category has its own judge, Kiger said, and elementary schools make up the largest group. There is also an overall head judge and a judge dealing specifically with photography. All the judges are professionals in their respective areas, which Kiger said means they either own a studio themselves or otherwise make their livings through their art.
Once everything is in place, the arts and photography show is huge. The displays take up half of the Kerr Scott building, a series of lattice panels arranged into “hallways” that guide guests between exhibits. The arrangement of individual art pieces and larger sections create something akin to a huge piece of art in itself, where the natural movement from one thematic group to the next helps carry momentum and keep guests interested throughout the entire show.
“You want to make sure it flows well, you want to make sure it looks intentional and not just like a hodge-podge,” she said.
Even once the show wraps up at the end of the fair, the work isn’t quite done. After the guests have gone home and the rides have stopped, Kiger and her staff have one day to pack up a show that took weeks to plan – no small feat, especially given how much art gets left behind each year.
“When I first started work at the fair, I thought ‘oh, we’ll work 11 days at the fair,’” she said. “But really, you’re working a week before the fair, and then 11 days during the fair and then one day after. That one day after is an intense one, because you’re trying to get all of that art out of there.”
With all the work going into the competition, it is perhaps not surprising that Kiger is excited to see how the show is received.
“I think it’s always exciting to see how the show comes together, that you see people come in and say, ‘this is a nice show,’” she said. “Especially the professionals. They do a lot of art shows, and they know what they’re supposed to look like. So they would know that you’ve put it up and laid it out correctly.”