Images popping up across town of a wide-eyed monkey in a bright blue dress mean one thing: the Art and Book Fair is fast approaching.
Cookie, featured in the Donald Roller Wilson painting “Cookie Had Seen One Before,” has become the new unofficial mascot for the evolving annual event. Now it its 54th year, the affair is organized by the Friends of the Wichita Art Museum to help fund exhibits and programming. Artisans from around the country will be selling high-quality art and fine crafts next weekend at Century II’s Exhibition Hall as an expanded offering of activities augments a local Mother’s Day weekend tradition.
“It’s a very festive atmosphere,” said Scott Hampel, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum chairman. “We wanted to include as many things as possible so the whole family has something to enjoy, and we’ve definitely done that this year.
“It’s fun, it’s enjoyable. It’s part indoors, part outdoors. It’s art for the ears, art for the taste buds and art for the eyes.”
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Coinciding with the Wichita River Festival before its move to June in 2011, this will be the third year that the Art and Book Fair has operated as a standalone event. Organizers say this opens up more space, and they’ve been working to enhance the programming for the weekend.
This year, they are doing more to reach out to local artists, as well as expanding the scope of art to include a car show, music and offerings from Wichita’s culinary scene.
“We’ve really become a festival all on our own,” said Joanna Ramondetta, a member of the planning committee. “There is something for everyone. There’s the chalk art, there’s the children’s activities, there’s the car show, and then, of course, the traditional art. We have really tried to make this a destination event.”
Building on a component introduced last year, the British Car Club of Wichita will exhibit automobiles outside Century II on Kennedy Plaza both Saturday and Sunday. Hampel said this helped draw in some new people last year, as many came to see the cars and discovered the art inside.
Also on the plaza will be students from area high schools doing chalk art on sidewalks and on easels. Ramondetta said this is a great way to get community and emerging artists involved.
“We’ve really been trying to reach out to the local arts community more,” she said. “We have such incredible talent here and wanted to give them another way to participate if they aren’t showing inside Century II.”
Food trucks, including The Flying Stove and Cake Face, will serve outside throughout the weekend.
Though they wouldn’t give away too many details, Hampel and Ramondetta teased that Cookie has a surprise in store for everyone who assembles outside at 1 p.m. Saturday. They said the happening will be a first for the fair, and that people will want to be there to see it.
Inside Exhibition Hall, more than 100 artists will sell an array of works, including paintings, photos, prints, jewelry, drawings, ceramics and sculpture. About one-third of the artists this year are new, a fact Hampel said speaks to the reputation of the juried exhibition. Prizes will be awarded to artists in several categories, with prize money being donated by the Wichita Arts Council.
The book component of the fair will take place on the balcony, where thousands of books covering all interests and genres will be for sale. Prices range from 50 cents to $10. An early bird shopping special will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Buyers wanting first pick of the lot can pay an admission fee of $5 to be among the first to sift through the offerings. This is the only portion of the fair that has a fee associated with it. Admission to the book sale and art showing is otherwise free.
Local musicians, including Bruce Huss, Bruce Ward, Tom Martin and Trevor Stewart, will play throughout the weekend as attendees shop. Kernels Popcorn Express, Cero’s Chocolate, Adore Sugar Cookies and Twizted Confections will be among the food vendors selling snacks inside. There also will be a kids activities area, where children and parents can create art projects or make Mother’s Day cards.
John Morrison, a Wichita-based artist who owns Prairie Vistas Photography, has been exhibiting for several years and said he always enjoys interacting with the patrons. He sells landscape photography and often finds himself in sentimental conversations with people who are familiar with the scenes he has captured.
“From the standpoint of an artist, the show is very well managed,” he said. “The Friends of the Art Museum really take care of the artists. The show itself has a good reputation around town, and we seem to have people return every year and look up artists they’ve seen in previous years.”
Hampel said it’s the tradition of going to the show on Mother’s Day weekend that brings many downtown each year to enjoy the offerings. He thinks the recent changes heighten the overall experience.
“The event shows Wichita’s love for the arts community,” Ramondetta said. “We have such a strong community here, and so many people are deep-rooted in that. They either are artists themselves, or they love art, or they are collectors of art. This event speaks to that. This event shows how important art is in people’s lives.”