By Aaron Levin
El Nino may have brought warm weather in February, but spring doesn't arrive officially at Johns Hopkins until Spring Fair opens in mid-April. For the 27th year in a row, the event will welcome Baltimoreans to campus, this year with carnival rides, rocking music, an antique-car show, arts and crafts vendors and fabulous food.
The student-run fair-the oldest such event in the country-will kick off at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, with a headline performance by standup comedian/playwright (Torch Song Trilogy) Harvey Fierstein.
Named Odyssey '98, the three-day event will have a classical Greek theme, so visitors can anticipate encounters with laurel-wearing students, ivy-festooned pillars and several large-scale surprises. An estimated 100,000 people are expected over the weekend of April 17-19, says Jane Rhyner, assistant director of student activities, who oversees the more than 200 student volunteers who do everything from selling program ads to sweeping up after the fair.
Masterminding an event of this magnitude is no small task, and preparations begin months before the first funnel cake is fried.
"We take 55 students down to Ocean City for two days in January for training," says Rhyner, who has worked with some 500 students in her 13 years of fair activities. "We work on goals and objectives, but mainly we try to get everyone to work together."
And that they do. "We have committees for everything," says Jessie Crain, a senior earth and planetary sciences major from Chicago, who is co-chairing the event with Bill Northington, a senior neuroscience major from Klemmons, N.C.
Students apply and are interviewed for committee posts at the start of the school year; the 55-member student staff then reviews reports on past fairs to avoid reinventing too many wheels.
"We have to recruit food vendors and crafts people and negotiate with booking agents to sign up performers," says Crain. With Fierstein set for opening night, Crain and Northington focused on bands and a comedy act for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The food vendors will bring to Homewood a veritable world of favorite treats, from pit beef and funnel cakes to Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Greek cuisine.
Many community and nonprofit organizations will set up booths on campus, happy to provide information or to recruit new members from among the fair's visitors.
Entry fees from sporting events like tennis or volleyball tournaments will be contributed to organizations like the YWCA. The festival enables students to repay the neighboring communities for their hospitality while shoring up their own organizations' resources.
Some groups sell food, beer or soda to earn funds; others are hired to patrol the parking lots, keep an eye on the ticket money and, of course, clean up afterward. Other students scout for sponsorship dollars, signing on beer distributors, telephone companies and hotels to contribute money for expenses in exchange for program ads. Posters go up in neighborhoods around Baltimore; banners are strung across major streets downtown.
"This is a fair for everyone," says Crain, noting that many visitors are families with young children, drawn by carnival rides and a petting zoo.
So mark your calendar for noon on April 17 and head to campus to enjoy the fun while helping Hopkins students raise funds for dozens of community service projects. Admission and parking are free during daytime events.
Spring Fair hours are 1-5 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For other information and tickets to Harvey Fierstein ($7 for students; $12 for the general public), call 410-516-7692.