Wichita art, book fair trying some new things to bring in more people

05/09/2014 7:15 AM

05/09/2014 7:16 AM

Chris Gulick is aiming to make this year’s Art and Book Fair an amplified experience. As the new chairman of the annual event, he and others involved want the weekend to be a celebration of Wichita’s unique creative brand.

Now in its 55th year, the Mother’s Day weekend tradition will offer the usual variety of art and fine-crafts vendors as well as its customary vast collection of rare and used books. Several new elements have been added, though, and organizers hope they broaden the customer base and leave an impression.

“We’re trying to bring Final Friday into the daylight and on a whole weekend,” said Gulick, a well-known local artist who was instrumental in starting the popular monthly art crawl. “My job has been to turn the Art and Book Fair into one of my kinetic installation projects. It’s like a sculpture, and you need to activate every single corner. In this case, it’s activating a room, and we intend for every corner of the room used at Century II to be infused with activity of, by and about Wichita.”

More than 100 artists from across the country will sell an array of works, including paintings, photos, prints, jewelry, drawings, ceramics and sculptures. The book component of the fair will take place on the balcony, where thousands of books will be on sale. Prices range from 50 cents to $10. While the fair is free to attend, an early bird shopping special will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday for buyers wanting first pick of the lot. Admission is $5.

New this year will be a collective of local artists interspersed throughout the Exhibition Hall. Among them will be displays by Hugo Zelada-Romero, Derek Miller and Gary Pendergrass; student body works from Wichita State University’s Shift Space Gallery and the WSU Sculpture Guild; a collection of works from the art activists associated with Seed House (Casa de La Semilla); and a Saturday panel talk about organizing creative events hosted by Creative Rush. MonArt at the Art Park will also run a children’s activity and education area, and Jaki McElroy will have her own caricature booth.

Kylie Brown, founder of Creative Rush, said she is glad to see the event broadening some of its central activities.

“The talk that we are hosting is interesting because it’s all about how you create synergy around an arts-related event; that’s really what is happening this year with the Art and Book Fair,” she said. “I find it quite exciting that so many different groups of people and types of art will be represented.”

The Art and Book Fair is put on by the Friends of the Wichita Art Museum to raise funds for the procurement of new museum artworks. Money raised also helps the museum’s library and finances the Howard Wooten lecture series. The event had long coincided with the Wichita Riverfest (though it operated independently). That changed in 2011, when the festival moved to June and the Art and Book Fair remained on Mother’s Day weekend. Organizers and vendors have said that decision has resulted in more of a focus on art and increased sales. Gulick said the need to increase sales is part of why the new elements were added.

“In order for us to encourage more artists from all over the country to come work at the fair, you have to bring a crowd that will spend money,” he said. “These are serious, high-quality artists who come. … Many of them do 20 to 40 shows per year. We need to activate every generation in our city to come out and patronize them. Final Friday brings a heck of a lot of people out. If this town was able to go see what was going on during Final Friday in the daylight on a weekend, our artists would make a boatload of more money.”

To that end, several inaugural activities are being introduced this year. The first will commence Friday night with the La Noche de Fiesta VIP Preview Party. Tickets are $50 and will offer a chance to preview the artworks that will be for sale. It will feature live music and gourmet food, with an upscale Latin vibe. The Maker’s Fair will be held in the balcony area where the books will be sold. It will feature hand-made arts and crafts from local artists. Also new this year is the Art Council’s Emerging Artist Award. Eight finalists out of nearly 50 submissions will have works spanning a variety of media on display and will compete for cash prizes.

Lindsey DeVries, one of the jurors, said the award will help bring new people to the event.

“It’s an important award for this city, because it recognizes our emerging talent,” she said. “We hope this award helps propel artists’ careers and that it also raises awareness about the talent level in Wichita. It will bring in younger talent and help energize the event overall.”

DeVries said she has not previously attended the Art and Book Fair, largely because she wasn’t sure it was for younger people. Her involvement this year has given her a renewed sense of hope that it can grow and have broad appeal.

Like Brown and DeVries, Gulick expects there will be many new faces at the event this year.

“All of these different aspects will bring in their own posse,” he said. “I want the vendors to make more money from more customers so that they tell their friends from around the country to come to Wichita to sell. I want them to see that we have an arts community here that is vibrant and unique. Ultimately, that means more art for our art museum. This is for your art museum.”

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