Sunday, August 17, 2014

hall of fame parade

 A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a rather surreal process: judging the Hall of Fame (Football as this is Canton we are talking about) Parade floats.  There are floats that are made by groups and Companies as well as a Hall of Fame "Queen and her Court". The day before the parade, all of the floats as well as the people who "ride" them are assembled in a large building at the Stark County Fairgrounds and each float demonstrates their presentation for the judges (there were three of us). I was asked by a few people what qualifies me to be a float judge. I honestly cannot answer that question. If being a furniture designer and an artist are my claims to fame, I suppose that is it. I did not seek this position, I assure you. The opportunity presented itself to check off an item on my bucket list that I never knew I had. The other judges were a Museum curator and a lighting/event designer. As we were being briefed in a small room on the criteria for judging the floats, which includes such categories as "enthusiasm" and "use of natural materials", we could here booming voices coming from one of the float areas. We began our judging with the "12th Man" float.

Not being much of a football fan, my memories of the sport are going to the old Soldier Field in Chicago to watch the Bears get beat by yet another team and long for a quarterback who could complement Gayle Sayers or Walter Payton. I never heard of the 12th Man. Apparently, it is a member organization. You cannot just decide that you want to wear makeup and a costume but must be accepted into the ranks of 12th mandom. They were nothing if not entertaining and enthusiastic. On a scale of 1-10 I gave them a 10+ for enthusiasm. However, the float itself had zero character, it was just a platform in the pattern of a generic AstroTurf football field to support all the singing, hooting and waving of the 12th Men and Women. This was my first clue as to how the floats themselves were considered by their makers.

posing with one of the Oakland Raider 12th Men.

The only float that had real character, utilized natural materials, looked as though it was designed (which it was) and conceived to have interesting aspects in all angles and sides, as well as a narrative theme was created by the Boy Scouts. If every float had had this kind of creativity and attention to detail, it would have been a joy to judge and examine the 12 to 13 floats. They had a sponsor who was more like a salesman telling the tale of the conception of the float with the plans, etc. but his efforts were totally unnecessary. The float was cool and spoke for itself. It was the unanimous choice as the Grand Prize winner.
Then there were a few floats that were so lacking in imagination and personal character that they seemed like a corporate heartless infomercial. Which is exactly what they were. This Ohio Lottery entry was an example. The people were nice and well meaning and even had a bit of a sense of humor. The float depicts the "biggest scratch off ticket" being dragged to the car of a presumed ticket owner. There were virtually no natural material used unless you consider a few potted plants that look like they were borrowed from the back office of the Lottery. To even consider "judging" entries like these is an insult to human creativity. I could not help thinking repeatedly about the boundless inspirational creative projects that are part of the Parade the Circle, only about 50 miles to the North in Cleveland every year. Groups of people and artists in the community gather for months to plan and execute home made but incredibly interesting creations and have a parade just to honor that creativity. If you live in North East Ohio and have never seen this event, I strongly urge you to go next year. Here is a link to more info:

There were a few floats that honored Veterans and Fallen or injured soldiers. There was no category on our checklist for "emotional impact" or "meaningful tribute". It was impossible to compare these solemn floats with the whooping and hollering of the 12th Man. Veterans of World War II and Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq were all present, including a 95 year old Vet. Photos of young faces from Stark County graced some of the floats memorializing their ultimate sacrifice. As is typical in Canton and probably throughout most of the Country, these honorable presentations are often connected with Christianity, inadvertently perhaps, making members of other faiths feel left out. 

I will never forget the experience of the judging and in no way want to make my sponsors feel that I did not appreciate the honor of being selected a judge. I also had the good fortune of being visited by my business partner, Carisa Marie during this time, so she got to accompany me on this journey. She is familiar with the Rose parade in Portland, Oregon having grown up there and they go all out with flowers on their floats.  I could ask her after the event if this really just happened or did I make it up?! 

The Hall of Fame parade floats are such a long way from being interesting creations that I believe the judging should be suspended until such a time that the float makers make an honest attempt to come up with creative and self made (rather than guest and professional float makers) presentations. Communities and Companies should be encouraged to plan and compete for real honest and original floats. Natural materials should be used rather than plastic. There is nothing wrong with paper maché, hand painting, etc. It could be a real testament to Canton and make the event a special moment of pride for the community. The football enshrinees and the National media present for the week might even take notice.