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August 14, 2012

A taste of Italia at Indiana’s State Fair

Valley student organizes display to feel like Rome

INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine sitting at a café table for two enjoying freshly made cannoli. A passionate operatic aria fills the room. Children’s laughter echoes over a game of bocce ball. Ah, Rome.

No, it’s “Ciao Italia,” the 2012 Indiana State Fair’s international exhibit coordinated by Jordan Borders, an Indiana State University student and Jasonville native.

Borders, a senior in international business at ISU, brings passion and enthusiasm to the project, especially because he studied for a semester in Italy last year.

“The state fair came to a job fair at ISU, and I found out about the special projects intern position. I applied, explaining I knew the ins and outs of Italy, the insights of the people, I knew about Italy’s regions — much like our country’s states. The fair hired me and my boss, Brian Blackford, gave me free rein to organize and decorate the exhibit and follow up on the contacts he gave me. I cannot explain how valuable the experience I’ve received is and how much I appreciate the opportunity.”

Borders hopes to live and work in China for a year after graduation.

Housed in the fairground’s International Pavilion, the Italian display is the third exhibit in recent years to showcase Indiana’s business, historical and educational connections with a specific country. Japan and Germany were highlighted in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

The fair, which began Aug. 3 and runs through Aug. 19, presents the exhibit in partnership with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indianapolis’ International Center and the Italian Heritage Society. Businesses, organizations and individuals are donating artifacts and historical items along with offering hands-on activities, food and entertainment.

Clinton’s Little Italy Festival in Vermillion County, which hosts thousands of visitors each Labor Day weekend, is sharing its history with the state fair program. “We were thrilled when Jordan contacted us about participating at the state fair,” Carolyn Gillio, festival president, said.

“There are only two authentic Italian gondolas in the U.S., and Clinton has one of them. It was purchased in 1967 in Venice, brought to Clinton, and was used on the Wabash River for several years during the festival. Last year, it was restored and is used for our grape queen and king — the RE and Regina — to ride in our parade. Now, it’s also being used at the fair’s Italy exhibit.”

Gillio’s parents emigrated from Italy, and in 1966, her father was the first vice president of the festival. “I credit my dad for giving me pride in my community and for my Italian heritage.”

Clinton is Indiana’s largest Italian-American community. “It’s that way because of the original coal mining industry near the town that drew Italians to work here,” Borders said. “Most of the residents left over the years, but the Italians stayed there.”

About 3 percent of Indiana’s population has Italian background, and many live in the Clinton area, Gillio said.

Several Italian businesses are also strongly connected to Indiana. Lake Eerie Products (LEP Special Fasteners) in Frankfort operates as a subsidiary of Fontana Luigi SpA, headquartered in Rome; Peg-Pérego, manufacturer of children’s carriages, strollers, car seats and high chairs, employs nearly 70 in Fort Wayne; Muncie Power produces mobile power components and systems for truck equipment in Muncie, and is part of the Interpump Group of S. Ilario D’Enza, Italy; and Brevini USA and Brevini Wind at Yorktown specialize in gearboxes, including for wind turbines. The Brevini Group was founded in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Borders’ time in Italy influenced his plans for the fair exhibit.

“Italy’s history is so rich and is also very influential in the U.S. Sixty percent of the world’s art treasures are found in Italy. Marionettes, opera, fashion and architecture are integral parts of Italy’s vitality, and I wanted to incorporate them into ‘Ciao Italia.’”

Graphics in the exhibit tell the history of Sicily, Venice, Rome, Florence and Milan, Borders said.

“We have a replica body cast of the Pompeii disaster. Jeff Hutson, a licensed gondolier, sings on our stage, in addition to professional opera performers. Every Indy racing car this year had a Dallara chassis, so we have a racing car on exhibit. We also have authentic, freshly made Italian food from Indy’s ‘Little Eataly.’ Visitors enjoy grabbing a bite and a drink and listening to our live entertainment.”

The biggest exhibit draw is the bocce ball game. Joe Giacoletti, originally from Clinton, built the bocce court that’s used at the fair exhibit. Volunteers demonstrate to visitors how to play and cheer on participants.

“In Indiana, cornhole is big, but bocce is a great addition and has room to grow,” Borders said with a laugh.

“When people come through the exhibit, I hear them say, ‘Remember when we visited there?’ Italy was influential for them as it was for me. I had never been to the state fair until I started my internship, but I want everyone who comes to the Italy exhibit to have a successful visit and leave with even more memories.”

Susan Hayhurst is a freelance writer from Terre Haute and is a member of the Indiana State Fair Commission.

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