Arts & Culture

Wichita fine arts show hopes to become fall tradition

It was put together by the Wichita River Festival staff and will include vendors, a food court and children's activities.

But the new Autumn & Art Festival, taking place next weekend at Bradley Fair shopping center at 21st and Rock Road, will be nothing like the River Festival or its popular Art & Book fair.

It's a juried fine arts show, meaning that a panel of art experts chose the more than 60 artists who will sell their work from tented booths along Bradley Fair Parkway.

And even though the event welcomes and will include activities for casual art fans, such as food from Bradley Fair restaurants and art projects for kids, it's a serious event likely to attract serious art buyers who can afford price tags up to $6,000.

"It's a wonderful opportunity when you have artists willing to come such great distances to show what they have," said Larry Stephenson, an Andover watercolor artist who will have a tent at the fair. "These are people who do this for a living. It's not a weekend hobby for these people."

The idea for the event materialized last year, after Wichita Festivals stepped away from the Wichita Flight Festival, which it had run since 2002.

The Wichita Festivals staff wanted to create a new signature event for the fall, and the organization's president and CEO Janet Wright drew inspiration from Kansas City's 79-year-old Plaza Art Fair, an annual event that draws thousands to Country Club Plaza.

The staff took the idea to Bradley Fair developer George Laham. He offered to co-sponsor the event (along with Fidelity Bank), which will be set up along about a quarter mile of Bradley Fair Parkway, the twisty road behind the shopping center.

Organizers hope the event will draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people. It opens on Friday night with a $100-a-ticket preview party that offers food and drink from Yia Yia's Eurobistro, live jazz, and a chance to shop the art before the masses arrive.

That'll be on Saturday and Sunday, when admission is free and visitors can peruse the art and purchase food from Bradley Fair restaurants, including On the Border and Red Rock Canyon Grill on Saturday and Outback Steakhouse and Jason's Deli on Sunday.

But organizers are really hoping to attract art buyers, which will determine how the event is able to grow. Next year's Autumn & Art dates are already set for Sept. 16-18.

Original artwork, from mediums such as ceramics, glass, photography, painting and sculpture, will cost from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars, Wright said. Several artists also will offer less expensive reproductions of their originals.

"The number of artists we have for a first-year show is really pretty good," Wright said. "If the public comes out and buys the art, hopefully we can keep expanding it so we can have even more opportunities."

The artists attending represent 24 states and are from as far away as North Dakota and Florida.

Of the artists, 17 are local, including Stephenson and local pastel artist Don Coons, who sold the organizers a large, framed original that they'll give away in a drawing.

Stephenson, who's known for his watercolors depicting vintage toys and fly fishing, spends much of his year traveling to art shows all over the country. Wichita needs something just like this, he said.

The show will include many talented artists that he knows and admires, including renowned pencil artist J.D. Hillberry and Denver egg-tempera painter Brian Keller.

"It's an opportunity to maybe experience something that Wichita people have not experienced before on this level ," Stephenson said. "I have done shows all across the country this year, and I'm kind of anxious to have a quality show right here in my back yard."