CivicFest showcases state, national history

While the main attractions for the Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held in St. Paul, the Minneapolis Convention Center will be home to a nonpartisan affair.

“I think it’s an opportunity to be a part of history and involved in the convention experience,” said Minneapolis-St. Paul Host Committee Producer Maxene
Fernstrom. “And there are very few cities that [can] host political nomination convention and be a part of history.”

And Fernstrom should know — she was the chief operating officer of the 1996 and 2000 Republican National Conventions.

In coming weeks, crowds wearing everything from Brooks Brothers to Birkenstocks to baby booties will pack the Convention Center, 1201 2nd Ave. S., during CivicFest (Aug. 29–Sept 4). Fernstrom said she expects two-thirds of the attendees to be local, and the other convention visitors.

The event will feature 35 educational exhibits chockfull of presidents and patriotism. There’s arguably no better time to become acquainted with the history of the United States’ presidents (aside from learning all of them in grade school) than during a national convention.

On the floor of the Convention Center, you’ll be able to step aboard a scale model of Air Force One only to walk outside and find yourself at the steps of the White House. As if that’s not enough, patrons can get a feel of being the president, when they take a seat behind a model replica of the desk in the Oval Office.

In an interesting twist, the wholly original exhibit will also feature those who donated the pieces.

Miniature Artist John Zweifel will be on hand answering questions. He has been inside every Oval Office since the Kennedy Administration, taking photos, documenting furniture and creating scale models for people to take in.

Historic documents will rest along a cavalcade of Americana, including: flags, military medals and presidential limousines. And if you feel like dusting off Old Glory, free “roadshow appraisals” of
political memorabilia will be offered.

Many of the exhibits “have been featured attractions at the Smithsonian Institution, the Lincoln Museum and Library, and other renowned historical institutions, but never before have they been brought together under one roof,” according to

Event organizers are hoping to attract everyone but particularly local patrons. Aside from presidential paraphernalia, CivicFest will also address Minnesota’s first 150 years of statehood in the realms of business, technology and invention. Betty Crocker, the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Post-It notes will be featured.

An abundance of exhibits will feature other moments in American history and the idea of democracy, itself.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul 2008 Host Committee organized the event in cooperation with 15 corporate sponsors. There will be a number of local volunteers on-site, and every performer featured on the Best Buy Live Stage will have a local connection, event organizers said.

While CivicFest will be one of 50 events planned in Minneapolis during the days around the RNC, it will be, perhaps, the largest scale event.

Minneapolis last saw a convention when the RNC was held on the east bank, across from modern-day Downtown in 1892. President Benjamin Harrison got the nomination. He lost in the general election to Grover Cleveland.

If You Go

Cost: adults, $15; student/senior/military, $10. Children 8 and under, free. Be on the lookout for a number of discount coupons around the city.    

Times: 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m.,
Friday, Aug. 29; 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 30; 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31; 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Monday, Sept. 1, Tuesday, Sept. 2 and Wednesday, Sept. 3; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 4.