While thousands of people from across the city and region swarmed the Country Club Plaza this weekend for the Plaza Art Fair, a lesser-known art fair was taking place a few blocks east of the shopping district. The UNplaza art fair, as it’s also become affectionately known, is an event that supports inclusivity and affordability, something that stands in contrast to the event at the Plaza.
The event is officially called the PeaceWorks KC Art Fair, but ask anyone at the event and you’re bound to hear the unofficial name pop up.
The UNplaza Art Fair took place on Saturday and Sunday in Theis Park just south of the Nelson Atkins Museum. Artists, vendors, activists, and guests all came together to fill a treelined portion of Oak Street to peruse the local artwork, eat from food vendors, and celebrate the community-led event as something different from the big brother event to the west.
Anita Eastwood, an artist, and vendor at the event, said the event was the first time she exhibited her illustrations to the public.
“I’ve been drawing my whole life but I’ve only been an artist for a year, so I can’t afford to do things like the Plaza Art Fair, and I’d also rather be somewhere like this,” Eastwood said. “I also really like what PeaceWorks stands for and for giving me this opportunity.”
PeaceWorks KC, the nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that sponsors the event, was formed in Kansas City in 1982 in protest of the manufacturing of nuclear weapons but has evolved to educate peaceful civil resistance to all.
The UNplaza Art Fair is Peaceworks KC’s sole fundraiser and relies on donations and a “pay-what-you-can” system for artists to showcase their work. The organization secures the park space and event permits from the city and encourages artists of all colors, gender, identities, and people with disabilities to participate in the event.
While the Plaza Art Fair draws a larger crowd the invitation-only application process limits who can apply and who is selected to showcase their work. The Plaza also requires the submission of professional quality images for review, which can be expensive for independent artists.
According to Lea Maddy, an artist participating in the event, the opportunity to support PeaceWorks KC and the event’s mission of inclusivity were exciting for her.
“The charity aspect of it is really cool, when I learned what the money would go towards I thought, ‘Oh, I really like that,’” Maddy said. “I also think that everyone deserves art, and not at an outrageous price. So this is a way for someone to get an original piece of art to hang in their home at an affordable price.”
The artists and guests at the UNplaza art fair also expressed an air of self-awareness with the juxtaposition of the events.
Through laughter, Kimmy Igla, an artist at the event described in her own words the difference between the Plaza Art Fair and UNplaza Art Fair.
“Oh, it’s like the difference between the rich yuppies and the activists?” Igla said.
“I feel like people aren’t here for their own purpose, they’re here to support PeaceWorks and support the community,” Igla said. “It seems like it’s not just people looking to come to buy a piece of art it’s also that they want to talk and learn and engage, which is really cool and unique,” she added.
Most everyone attending was enjoying the event for what it was.
“If you have the money to spend and you’re willing to pay for it, ‘great’. But for me, I’m in the shade, I’m enjoying talking to people here, and we’re just having a good time,” Maddy said.