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14 March 2011

James Ogul: Looking back on a career in US expos and expo pavilions

St Louis, Missouri, USA - March 14, 2011

James Ogul may not be a household name to you, but it was a name that I read and heard frequently in the 1980s and ‘90s, during my tenure at World’s Fair magazine*. We knew Ogul then as the face of the US Information Agency (USIA), which managed US participation in world expos. The US presence on the expo scene was dependable from the ‘50s through the ‘80s but began to waver in the 1990s. There’s been something of a comeback in the 21st century, most notably with the exemplary USA Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010

At such times as our nation has stepped up to participate in a world expo, from the early ‘80s to the present more often than not Ogul has been tapped to help coordinate the effort on the government side – recently in connection with the USA Pavilion for Shanghai, and now, in connection with the RFP issued by the US government for participation in Yeosu Expo 2012.

Photo: BRC Imagination Arts (c)
The USIA was absorbed some years ago in a re-organization, and Ogul’s current title is Program Officer with the Office of Citizen Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, State Department. Further changes are ahead: Ogul, now 70, has announced that he will retire in May. He shared with us a recap of some memorable roles and milestones - and some pictures - from his substantial world’s fair resume.

With the British royal family at the US Pavilion, Vancouver Expo 86
The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was the site of James Ogul’s first involvement in world’s fairs - as one of the managers of an Atomic Energy Exhibit in the Hall of Science. He didn't return to the expo scene again until 16 years later, but it was more or less continuous after that. In 1981, he signed on as an Exhibits Officer for the US Pavilion at Knoxville Expo 82 (theme: Energy). “My job there was to get all of the exhibit copy approved by the Department of Energy and look after the interactive touchscreen exhibits - which was the first application of this technology on such a large scale, and won the National Audio-Visual Association’s top achievement award for 1982,” said Ogul. 
The Sunsphere under construction at Knoxville 82. Photo: Ed Keen (via Gordon Linden)

Following Knoxville, Ogul was appointed Exhibits Director for the U.S. Pavilion at New Orleans Expo 84. “Among other things, we had two 750 seat 3-D theaters, with a film by award winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim and an actual Space Shuttle – the one that was used for glide testing,” he recalled.

With Bush at Vancouver 86
Although 1984 marks the last time the US hosted a world’s fair, the 1980s were a busy decade for expos, and from New Orleans, Ogul moved on to become Exhibits Director for the US Pavilion at Tsukuba Expo 85 in Japan. “Our pavilion was visited by the Emperor and Prime Minister.” Next, Ogul was Pavilion Director for the US presence at Vancouver Expo 86. “My duties included personally escorting Princess Diana and Prince Charles through the Pavilion as well as Vice President George H. W. Bush.” Ogul was not involved in the US presence at World Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia, but in 1988 served as staff director for an Interagency Task Force to develop plans for future participation in world’s fairs. He also served as US project coordinator for the US - Australia Maritime Gallery in the soon-to-open Australia Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbor. “The Gallery was a bicentennial gift to Australia.” 

US Pavilion, Lisbon Expo 98. Photo: Gordon Linden
In 1992, Ogul served as Project Director and Pavilion Director for the US Pavilion at the expo in Seville, Spain. Following that he served as coordinator for the US Pavilion at the 1993 world expo in Taejon, Korea. In 1998 he assisted in the development of plans for US participation at Lisbon Expo 98. This was, Ogul pointed out, “the first US Pavilion to have an interactive Web site and a Scientific Advisory Board. It had a live satellite video presentation by President Clinton, who spoke to the expo community as part of US National Day. It featured a film entitled Discover Planet Ocean, produced exclusively for the US Pavilion by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.”

USA Pavilion, Aichi 2005. Photo: Gordon Linden
The next expo, Hanover 2000, lacked a US presence: “We withdrew from Expo 2000 due to a lack of private sector support,” explained Ogul. There was a more positive outcome five years later, in Japan: Ogul served as a coordinator for US participation at Aichi Expo 2005. Following that, he was a member of the Shanghai Expo 2010 working group. “My role for Shanghai was coordinating the vetting of potential private sector partners,” he explained, “and I am currently doing the same in regard to Yeosu Expo 2012.”

For the ups and the downs of the US hosting and participating in world expos in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the beginning of the 21st century, James Ogul has been there. We wish him a good transition and happy retirement. --J.R.

*World’s Fair magazine is out of print, but publisher Alfred Heller is still following the expo scene.