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From Newbie To Veterans, Three Plaza Art Fair Artists Tell Us How They Get Ready

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Jewelry artist Kelly Conner sits at her workbench at Bonfire art studios in Mission, Kan. She's been hard at work this week making new pieces for her booth at the upcoming Plaza Art Fair.

Art fairs don't seem like a place of fierce competition — but getting a booth at one can be.

More than 1,400 artists apply each year for the Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City. Participants are selected by a jury, a group of curators, gallery owners and educators. This year, 240 artists got in, including about 40 from Kansas and Missouri.

We checked in with a few artists based in Kansas City:  

  • Name: Kelly Conner
  • Media: Jewelry 
  • Studio location: Bonfire, 6104 Johnson Drive, Mission, Kansas 
  • Number of years in Plaza Art Fair: 1

On advice for artists considering applying 

"My advice is to not be afraid to apply. It's not going to hurt to apply. Do it all the way. If you're going to apply, make sure you put the effort, the best foot you can put forward." 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Conner reaches for a recently-finished silver earring.

On interactions at an art fair

"You want to be able to buy from someone you trust and someone you like, that you know, and can share their story. That's my favorite part, getting to do that with the people who come in and buy my art. I want them to feel like they're taking a little piece of me home with them.

"I think this is especially true for jewelry. There is nothing that replaces the ability to pick it up and touch it in person and try it on."

On the Plaza Art Fair

"The Plaza Art Fair is one of those things that as an undergrad and even as an artist starting out, it was the top of the list. This is my first big show like this. And so what do you save for the next time, without going too overboard for the first time?"

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Printmaker Heinrich Toh leans over his press at Fraction Print Studio in the Crossroads.

  • Name: Heinrich Toh
  • Media: Printmaking/multimedia works on paper
  • Studio location: Fraction Print Studio, 130 W. 18th Street, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Number of years in Plaza Art Fair: 10 or 11

On advice for artists considering applying 

"Absolutely, it is not for everyone. It is a lot of work. I always stress: work should come first, in terms of the quality of the work that you do.

"If you are extremely shy, and not someone who feels like you can deal with large crowds, it might not be for you. But no one can answer that but yourself.

"I would say, try it out, and see if it's something for you." 

On the role of the artist at the fair

"I believe the artist's role to start with is to educate the public. I talk to anyone who stops in my booth. There is an element of surprise when someone comes in and they don't have a whole lot of art exposure or art experience.

"I believe one of the many roles of the artist is giving them (the audience) that accessibility and knowledge in terms of what they're looking at."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Lanterns and peonies float above a forest of trees in a stack of unframed works in Heinrich Toh's studio.

On the Plaza Art Fair

"It is a juried process, new jurors will come in and judge the work. That changes every year, but the quality is normally very high, so you get to see a good amount of artists that you might not see coming in from out of town. You do get fresh and new artists who are local as well, who will exhibit. 

"Go in and ask questions. That's really when you explore and learn a lot, and see what's out there. And I think it makes a great experience, looking at art."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Digital artist Andrew Johnson keeps his two Bernina sewing machines humming in his home studio in Brookside.

  • NameAndrew Johnson
  • Media: Digital art (computer-designed embroidery)
  • Studio location: Brookside home
  • Number of years in Plaza Art Fair: 11 

On advice for artists considering applying 

"I was making my pieces on the side, just for fun really, and friends and family and work colleagues were offering to buy them. And just on a whim, I applied to an art fair, and then it grew from there.

"First of all, I would say, talk to the artists at the art fair (to get their take on it). Take their card and contact them. Usually the artist is busy during art fair hours." 

On unexpected challenges 

"Actually, it's really brought me out of my shell. I'm a pretty shy and quiet person, so I had to learn pretty quickly that if I wanted to eat that I needed to be a little more talkative. So, yeah, I'm pretty good at it now."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Two whimsical birds seek refuge beneath the dress of a girl.

On what the art fair experience is like 

"The one thing that you don't think about: Even though it's a lot of work, it's just so much fun. I feel like I get to play every day. This is not work for me. And I love going to the art fairs, too, I get to see friends and be outside all day." 

On the Plaza Art Fair

"The Plaza Art Fair is just really special. Being such an excellent show, and being right in my backyard, I'm just thrilled that I'm in it again, I feel very fortunate that I'm in it again.

"I've had shows throughout the summer. But the Plaza is like the chocolate cake, on top of the chocolate cake."

2017 Plaza Art Fair, Friday, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. September 22 - 24, Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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