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Looking for a new and different venue I choose to go east of Denver into Kansas and Topeka for the first time, I wasn't the only first timer for this show either. An artist from AZ and two from NM were there as well as a painter from MO and a few others I can't remember. This is the 21st year for the Mulvane Mountain Plains Art Fair which is held as a benefit for the Mulvane Art Museum on the Campus of Washburn University. The campus itself is a tidy little setting and has a wonderful esplanade north of the football field where the event is staged. Topeka is easy enough to navigate and once I got grounded in the location of the venue, relative to most of the hotels in town, it was stress-less to get around.
The museum has a patrons program where members pledge to make purchases from artists in amounts from $150-$500 in advance of the show! Patrons were at the venue early Saturday morning enjoying a catered breakfast at 7:30. I could tell they were excited to be there by the high tone in the crowd and the volume in their conversations. By 8 or 8:30 they were rar'n to go and were circulating among the booths with their pledge packets in hand. The impression I had was that this is a very art savvy crowd and were genuinely interested in the art and the artists. When a patron would make their pledge purchase they would give the artist a ribbon with the patrons name on it. It made me feel really special and appreciated when one of the patrons purchased my art and left his ribbon. A local artist, Pam Somerville, filled me in on the details of who had come into my booth to enthusiastically purchase one of my prints.
This initial surge did not let up till after 12 or so with "regular" patrons buying at a brisk pace as well until things seemed to settle into a normal browsing crowd. Pam suggested that in her experience the "be backs" actually do come back on Sunday after previewing things on Saturday. Sunday rolled around and although the initial weather report was for clear skies and temps in the 70's it must have changed overnight as the skies were clouded over with temps just below 60 until after about 1:00 when the skies cleared and the sun came out with pleasant temps. Apparently we were lucky this weekend as the weather can often be stormy, glad it wasn't as it kept the crowds steady all weekend long. In addition to that, people I had met on Saturday actually did come back and make purchases!
Logistics: Setup is organized with pre-set load in times. I wasn't planning to load in early but when I got there to see how things were organized they were so easy going as to let me set up early, besides which there weren't that many artists there yet and the street was not crowded. Once you get your packet and locate your space load in is from the adjacent street and nearby parking lot with a short walk with your cart on sidewalks. Booths were setup on the grassy areas just next to the sidewalks with plenty of space in back. There were volunteers around with additional carts to help with unloading, I think they were anticipating a much more chaotic setup, but things went at a very leisurely pace all day Friday before the event. Load-out was equally easy once I had everything packed I carted it to a nearby curbcut, pulled up the "ArtMobile" and packed it out quickly.
Show hours: Set up is all day Friday before the show. Saturday they ask that artists be there at 7 and it goes till 5. Sunday hours are from 10 till 4. The early Saturday was a rush but other than that the hours are very reasonable.
Amenities: Some sweet stuff and coffee were available in the mornings with water available all day. Volunteers came around regularly with water and asked if you needed a break even though the packet said you had to sign up in advance. Sunday morning there were goodie bags and extra snacks as well.
Demographics: There was a well mixed crowd age wise. The $6 gate may have kept the real casual crowd away.
Food: There didn't seem to be a lot of food, just enough for a little variety and to keep the hungry ones from leaving.
Quality of work: I'd have to say that the range of quality at this show was on the high average side. Overall I was pretty well impressed with the quality of this show. There were a few other artists there that I've seen at other shows and I think their work is among the best.
Reflections: This was a first time show for me and all things considered I felt I did okay, better than the average of most shows I've done lately. I did the show in combination with the Omaha Arts Festival (didn't get into Salina this year ;-P ) While waiting for Omaha I got a 4 day road trip in for more rusty stuff and roadside attractions in KS, MO and IA!
I like this kind of show where they are very well prepared but can still go with the flow and keep it casual with a friendly atmosphere. From where I stood everything seemed to go very smoothly and no one was having any drama. Well, okay, maybe one artist had a little drama when the glass from his jewelry case fell on the ground as he was packing up. Other than that I would seriously consider doing this show again, assuming the weather holds out!

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Comment by Annette Piper on June 14, 2013 at 9:37pm

Thanks for the review Brian, it sounds like a good little show, and as Ive seen before, shows with a Patrons program like this make for favourable outcomes.

Comment by S Brian Berkun on June 5, 2013 at 10:01pm
@CC Barton, oops missed that, and corrected!
Comment by mark oehler on June 5, 2013 at 12:15pm

re: Mulvane Art Museum show in Topeka, Ks.

I have done this show 5 or 6 times now over a period of 10 years. I do one of a kind stoneware pottery that is both decorative and functional. I don't do a lot of small pieces and wouldn't be confused with production ware.

That said, Saturday was the better the 2 day show, but most sales were over by 3:30. Sunday morning was very slow and the afternoon not much better. So, it was about like last year without the searing heat. The gate may keep the numbers down, but doesn't encourage sales either. Overall the atmosphere is good with friendly customers.

If I had to drive more than the 5 1/2 hours that it took to get here or didn't have Smoky Hills the next week-end I'd take a pass. I think the artists on circuit do this as  a fill in before Salina.

Comment by C.C. Barton on June 5, 2013 at 9:20am

Hi Brian,

Great and thoughtful review.  I'm happy you had a good experience at the show.  Wanted to tell you though that the Mulvane Art Museum is on the Washburn University campus in Topeka - there is no Mulvane University.  A little history: The Washburn University campus pre-1966 tornado had an extraordinarily beautiful, even somewhat gothic architecture.  After the tornado, they decided to rebuild in the clean, less distinctive modern style that exists today. 

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on June 3, 2013 at 5:42pm

The weather is always going to be a factor you can't control in any outdoor show.  However, I think the clientele of the shoppers is a big plus that helps to make this show worthwhile.  Thanks for the review.

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