Dr. Bruce Corrie runs an unusual booth at the Minnesota State Fair — Cultural Destinations, which features more than 50 entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds running the booth at different times.
A week into the fair, Corrie has interacted with nearly 1,000 visitors at his small booth tucked away in the corner of the education building.
“It was such an inspiring time connecting with these entrepreneurs in the cultural malls and commercial corridors in Willmar, St. Cloud, and across the metro area,” Corrie said of the business owners featured at his booth.
Aztec Hats, owned by Rodolfo Muñoz Aguilar, from Plaza Mexico in Minneapolis, was featured at the booth Wednesday. Some of the featured products included baseball caps and t-shirts emblazoned with Aztec designs in red, white, and green, the colors of the Mexican flag.
Muñoz Aguilar said he was thrilled at the opportunity to connect with a nontraditional customer base. Normally, he shares his work on social media, but displaying at the fair allowed him to physically interact with people who otherwise wouldn’t have stopped by his store, which is located at 417 E Lake St. in Minneapolis.
He carried a black t-shirt over his shoulder and hat in his hand as he talked to visitors.
“Everything you find in my store is made by me; I make my own designs,” Muñoz Aguilar said. “The intention is to expand a little more so that people know more about my culture and art.”
Cultural Destinations will feature Africa Day, including businesses from AJ International Mall, on Labor Day. Businesses that have already showcased their wares at the booth include Little Mekong, Pen House from Wilmar, Minnesota, and different businesses from Karmel Mall, among many others.
A TV at the booth also plays a video highlighting businesses that aren’t present.
Corrie is an economist, professor of economics at Concordia University, and cultural entrepreneur who said he’s worked for two decades on Cultural Destinations.
The project lives mostly online, where people can learn about different cultures’ art, music and cuisine through virtual tours of businesses located across the country. Driving directions to destinations featured on the website are also included online.
The site features businesses like the different cultural malls in the Twin Cities, a Mexican restaurant in Wisconsin, a Black-owned cafe in Alabama, and a boba tea shop in Arizona, among many others.
This year mark’s his booth’s debut at the fair. He said the goal is to create a space for Minnesotans to enjoy different cultures.
“One of the things that has inspired me is the fact that I would say everyone I talked to was interested in and they appreciated that there was a place where they can find all this information,” Corrie said.
Businesses from across Minnesota that are members of Corrie’s recently launched Cultural Destinations Network are allowed to use the booth free of cost as long as they agree to share their different cultures.
“All of them agree to offer a quality cultural experience to anybody who comes their way,” Corrie said.
Several different business owners take turns displaying their goods at the booth each day.
Chicano artist Jimmy Longoria also mans the booth, creating art with help from visitors. Longoria, who’s been at the booth three days, said a piece of artwork he was working on Wednesday is called “First Daughter,” and is made up from scraps of material he collected from 3M.
The piece depicts a girl holding what Longoria calls the “bouquet of diversity,” which symbolizes the older sibling in an immigrant family who is usually tasked with things like interpreting and negotiating for their families while also striving for a better future.
“It’s really the first daughter who’s got the energy, the smarts, and the tenacity to form a business,” Longoria said.
Corrie said people have been drawn to Longoria’s art and other attractions at the booth, including a fashion show and an artist carving the tip of a pencil.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to bring visibility to these entrepreneurs,” Corrie said. “At the same time, they are offering Minnesota introduction to different cultures. Millions of people come to the state fair.”
A list of the guests and programs that will be featured at the booth can be found at Cultural Destinations’ website. Corrie, who is at his booth every day of the fair, is also giving out gift cards to visitors at the booth to help promote the businesses.
Corrie described his work as a “win-win” for both Minnesotans and the entrepreneurs he features.
“For the first time, it’s been amazing,” Corrie said, “because it’s beyond my expectations of how this space has been activated.”