Merrill Award

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Merrill Award

The Merrill Award, named in honor of Western Fairs Association Founder Louis Merrill, is given for those entries that clearly demonstrate innovation, vision, and excellence.

NEW IN 2023: the Merrill Finalist will be presenting their programs on Monday, January 16th from 5:15 PM - 6:15 PM in Crystal Rooms 1 & 2. These presentations are open to all convention attendees, no additional ticket required.

Merrill Award Finalists

Arizona State Fair

Category: Cultural Marketing
Program: Omnium Circus - Celebrating Diversities

The Arizona State Fair brought Omnium, A Bold New Circus, to the Fair to educate and celebrate diversities through art. Omnium’s “I’m Possible” show featured acrobats, dancers, contortion, and aerial artistry. The Arizona State Fair staff thought beyond the standard ADA requirements to meet the needs of those with neurodiversity’s. The show utilized storytelling throughout the performances to share how each performer had overcome challenges in their life and learning their craft. Guests were entertained with beautiful performances, which included aerial work performed by an individual who was born without legs and acrobat skill demonstrated by an individual who was born deaf.

Result – The Arizona State Fair team created a welcoming experience at the Fair for those impacted by low mobility, blind/low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, autism, Down’s Syndrome, and other disabilities. The Circus proved to be an excellent vehicle to adapt to the community, integrating new practices to how people experienced the Fair.

California Mid State Fair

Category: Non-Profit
Program: Operation WEBS (Women Empowered Build Strong)

Celebrating the community and bringing awareness to important causes is one of the goals of the California Mid-State Fair. This year the Fair crated a new, dynamic exhibit highlighting a special non-profit organization dedicated to building up women veterans. Grown from existing partnerships with local trade unions, the Fair welcomed Operation WEBS (Women Empowered Build Strong) to build a custom tiny mobile home live at the Fair. The home was built to benefit displaced and homeless woman veterans residing in the Central Coast of California.

Result – Throughout the Fair, staff, Board members, Career Fair union participants, and fairgoers were excited to watch the building of the tiny mobile home from wheels to roof. It was truly a collaborative effort. As a first-time partnership and exhibit, the Operation WEBS tiny-home build was a very successful exhibit, one that the California Mid-State Fair staff hopes to continue to build on for future Fairs.

Marin County Fair

Category: Interim Events
Program: MC 80 - Marin City's 80th Anniversary

The County of Marin Department of Cultural Services and the Marin Cultural Association celebrated the 80th anniversary of Marin City with two unique art exhibits and a special theater performance that celebrated the Black narrative and experience of people in Marin City, a small community in southern Marin. This program was a partnership with the nonprofit, Performing Stars of Marin and the County of Marin. Marin City 80 was a Countywide celebration of the eight generations of Black families in Marin City, and the establishment of the Marin City Historical and Preservation Society. Six hundred school children from local schools participated in docent led tours viewing the exhibit and watching the performance.

Result – Following the success of the exhibit and performance, Performing Stars of Marin, is establishing the Marin City Historical & Preservation Society (MCHPS). MCHPS to preserve artifacts, audio recordings, digital files, and various keepsakes from residents of Marin City, and serve as a community history center and museum.

San Mateo County Fair

Category: Agricultural Programming
Program: Farmworker Heroes

Farmworkers are the backbone of our food supply chain, as they are responsible for planting, raising, harvesting, and packing our fruits and vegetables and the production of dairy and meat – meaning all the food you eat daily is connected to a farmworker! When the C0VID-19 pandemic paused our lives in 2020, we saw firsthand how farmworkers kept our grocery stores stocked with the help of others in the food supply chain. The San Mateo County Fair staff wanted to let farmworkers know that their hard work is seen and appreciated. "Farmworker Heroes Appreciation Day" was created. It included a Farmworkers Heroes Exhibit, (open every day of the Fair).The gallery showcased portraits and stories of current farmworkers working in the fields. It aimed to educate and honor current farmworkers who still face challenging job conditions. Another section of the gallery was dedicated to the history of previous efforts by labor leaders who fought for better working conditions. An interactive mural project honoring Filipino farm workers was created during the Fair. Kids of all ages were encouraged to assist artist Carlos Gonzalez to paint the mural. There was also a special screening of the film about Cesar Chavez, live musical performances and special ceremonies honoring local farmworkers.

The Farmworker Heroes Exhibit was created in collaboration with the Cesar Chavez Foundation and ALAS (Ayudando Latinos A Solar).

Result – The multi-faceted Farmworkers Appreciation Day programming was a great agricultural educational experience for San Mateo County fairgoers and a tremendous way to honor the farmworker community.

Siskiyou Golden Fair & Jackson County Expo

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Category: Auctions
Program: Interstate Junior Livestock Auction

The Siskiyou Golden Fairground like all California Fairgrounds has had to pivot a lot over the last three years. In 2020, the fair was cancelled but the junior livestock grading and sale was able to be held in person and online by spreading the sale out over three days. In 2021, a detailed health and safety plan was written that limited attendance to 50% of capacity and a successful fair was held. None of this prepared them for 2022 and the McKinney Fire that started on July 30, less than two weeks before the opening of the Fair. The fairgrounds immediately became a State Fire Camp. The fair had to pivot again for the third year in a row. They collaborated with the Jackson County Expo, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. They gained approval to allow the transporting of livestock across state lines. It took a lot of coordination to access the needed livestock pens, changes in advertising, volunteers, show schedules, etc. with only ten days to organize the event.

Result -- There were 272 lots in the sale, including both Livestock and Ag Mechanics projects – with a record-breaking gross of over $1.2 million dollars. The animals and projects sold across the United States, online, in person and via a live stream. It took a tremendous amount of support and collaboration between these two fairs to make the event an overwhelming success.

Past Merrill Award Winners

2021 - Madera District Fair, Big Fresno Fair
2020 - Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fair, Deschutes County Fair, Oregon State Fair

2019 -
Antelope Valley Fair & Alfalfa Festival
2018 -
Lake County Fair • Marin County Fair
2017 - New Mexico State Fair • San Diego County Fair
2016 - Nevada County Fair • OC Fair & Event Center • Big Fresno Fair
2015 - Marin County Fair
2014 - Del Norte County Fair • Big Fresno Fair
2013 - Calgary Stampede • Washington County Fair
2012 - California Mid-State Fair • Grand National Rodeo • Monterey County Fair • San Benito County Fair • Santa Barbara County Fair • Ventura County Fair
2011 - Big Fresno Fair

2010 - Alameda County Fair
2009 - California Mid-State Fair
2008 - Alameda County Fair • Marin County Fair
2007 - Los Angeles County Fair • Marin County Fair
2006 - Big Fresno Fair • Minnesota State Fair
2005 - Calgary Stampede • San Diego County Fair
2004 - Antelope Valley Fair • Salinas Valley Fair
2003 - Redwood Acres Fair
2002 - Orange County Fair • Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair
2001 - Los Angeles County Fair • Western Washington Fair

2000 - Nadine Lowery • Kern County Fair
1999 - Western Washington Fair
1998 - Calgary Stampede • Marin County Fair
1997 - Del Mar Fair
1996 - California State Fair
1995 - Marin County Fair
1994 - California State Fair • Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
1993 - Calgary Stampede • Napa Valley Exposition • Orange County Fair
1992 - Merced County Fair • School Involvement Fair • Calgary Stampede
1991 - Western Fair

1990 - Sam Abbott
1989 - Orange County Fair • Festival at the Lake
1987 - Tulare County Fair • Colorado River Country Fair • California State Fair
1986 - New Mexico State Fair • Edmonton Northlands
1985 - Orange County Fair • Ventura County Fair • Sonoma County Fair • Los Angeles County Fair
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