80 Years of the Plaza Art Fair
(The above photo shows attendees enjoying the 1932 Plaza Art Fair.)
80 Years Strong...
During the Depression when many other companies failed, the Plaza looked for new ways to attract customers. The Plaza Art Fair was started in 1932 as a promotion to draw shoppers to the area and to lift their spirits. Held on an empty lot on the southwest corner of Nichols Road and Central, where Tiffany & Co. is now (see the photo above), 90 artists displayed their paintings by leaning them against trees and benches. Paintings were priced from $1 to ten dollars.
Artists enjoyed interacting with each other and having conversations with those in the crowd about their work. All agreed it was a successful first-time event and should continue. And continue it has.
Encompassing nine city-blocks and welcoming a crowd of over 250,000, the fair has certainly evolved from the early years when it was held at small, various locations throughout the Plaza. In the 1940s it was located in what is now Chandler Courtyard by The Cheesecake Factory. Initially the artists built their own screens with chicken wire and hoped they could withstand the weather.
Weathering the affects of the flood of 1977 is one the most significant dates in the Plaza Art Fair’s history. The Plaza and the City were devastated by the deaths and destruction from the September 12th flood, but many gathered to help clean-up the Plaza and prepare for the fair, only ten days away. And that they did.
After celebrating its 80th year in 2011 with 240 artists from across the country, the Plaza Art Fair has impressively become a top-ranked, national art event. But, perhaps even more impressively, it continues to be a weekend of people simply celebrating art and each other, as well as Kansas City’s unofficial welcome to the fall season.