Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Art Garden KC, an organic weekly arts festival that bloomed on an empty lot in Pendleton Heights during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently made the move to City Market Park.

“Not only is it helpful to our shops and restaurants to have City Market Park activated, but also Art Garden KC brings a great energy to our entire offering,” said Sue Patterson, Director of Marketing & Communications for City Market. “Diverse artists, innovative products, and inclusive atmosphere create a great experience for visitors and enhance the overall City Market vibe. Furthermore, City Market supports local artists and public art whenever possible, and hosting Art Garden KC provides a great opportunity to do just that.”

Most of the artists live within a stone’s throw of City Market, so it’s a great way to help these artists get in front of a larger audience from all over the region, Patterson said.

Art Garden KC was founded by residents of Pendleton Arts Block who were looking for a creative outlet, income and community when every gallery in the city was shut down because of the pandemic.

Bethany Alzanadi, Executive Director and Co-founder of Art Garden KC, is excited for the next step.

“The new phase – we’re still very much in the early phases of building this organization, so a lot of things are changing and will change in the future – but for right now, we feel like this move to City Market is a great opportunity to expand our brand, gain some publicity and to support the vendors,” Alzanadi said. “And to raise some funds so that eventually we can ensure sustainable traffic at our events so that the vendors do well at any location we pop-up in.”

The artists hope to reach a new audience and gain partnerships and relationships with the City Market businesses. Alzanadi said she is very excited to work with the streetcar.

“Art Garden happened so fast and so accidental and grassroots, and it’s a weekly event, so there was never really time to think about what the next steps were or what our real mission was, or to think about the future, because you’re just trying to get through the day-to-day,” Alzanadi said. “We’ve been in talks with Arts Asylum, which is our fiscal agent, about what the future could look like and what we’d like to be. Right now we’re still just trying to form our committee, which is made up of all the vendors themselves, and get more organized so that we can grow and sustain the organization.”

Alzanadi was proud to share that Art Garden helped local artists pay their bills, some of them taking their business full-time after the first season.

“During COVID, we talked about the mental health struggles and the financial struggles that artists were going through, and that’s really what created the need for something like Art Garden, especially living in an arts building where you could just feel the weight of the mental health stress that people were going through,” Alzanadi said. “But last year, we were one of the only events going on in the city. Gaining that popularity and getting that attraction from not only the Northeast neighborhood, but neighborhoods all over the city was very easy because we were really the only thing going on.”

However, starting this year’s season at their Pendleton Heights location, they had to compete with other events throughout the city, which are returning to normal.

“Not being able to gauge what kind of traffic you’re going to get with it wasn’t very sustainable,” Alzanadi said. “We just don’t want the vendors to suffer. I mean, they love being out there in Pendleton Heights, there was no booth fee, they’ve created a family out there, they’ve created a community. A lot of people say it’s their church, you know, it’s their Sunday home. But there are vendors that do need this as financial support, and if they’re showing up and not making any money, it can only last for so long.”

Alzanadi said artists are already seeing more sales at City Market Park, and feel they can rely on the weekly traffic because of the farmer’s market and other attractions.

“Being in this location is guaranteed foot traffic, usually a crowd of people that are looking to shop and looking to spend money, and plus we have all the tremendous benefits of partnering with City Market: their publicity, their outreach, they’re able to give us the advertising,” Alzanadi said. “No doubt about it, this was the right move for the vendors, financially for them.”

She was initially concerned that the “vibe” would be different in City Market than it had been in Pendleton Heights, but she’s come to realize that it’s the people that make a place feel like home.

“It’s still a beautiful, green, grassy area,” Alzanadi said. “There’s a lot more shade. It’s really about the people, the vendors that are out there, and we become such a tight knit family. It’s a rotating group of vendors, but you do have like the core group who is a part of the committee, and they’re there every weekend. Those are the vibes that they carry with them and everybody’s so supportive.”

Tracy Miller, a painter and Art Garden vendor, feels the new location is perfect, and feels like something that was meant to happen.

“Because there’s so many more different types of people, not only just coming to Art Garden because they know we’re having an event, it’s all the people as well at the farmer’s market that don’t expect anything other than fruits and vegetables, I like the surprise of all that,” Miller said.

Miller, who has taken the opportunity to explore different styles in his painting, moved from Atlanta, Ga., to Hyde Park, and then Pendleton Heights. He has found community and the confidence to sell his artwork at Art Garden.

With 500 vendors in their network, they put out a “roll call” ahead of each event. Whoever answers first gets to set up that weekend. Alzanadi is proud the group isn’t curated, meaning they accept artists of all skill levels and styles.

“As long as it’s handmade and you live within a 50 mile radius of the city, you’re welcome to vend,” Alzanadi said. “Each weekend, I would say about two thirds of the vendors that come out are new vendors that are trying it out. At our old location, we could fit about 43 canopies, and at this new location we can get 73 canopies. Some of those canopies are shared by two vendors.”

Alzanadi said the founders want to keep doors open to Northeast and would love to return in some capacity in the future.

“In the very beginning, it started out that [the artists] were based in Northeast just because it was literally the artist in the ArtsBlock building that founded it, and then word spread to other artists,” Alzanadi said. “But gosh, no, we have 500 something vendors. I could count on two hands the ones that are actually from the Northeast. We just feel that right now – because we are in our early stages of development and because we don’t have the financial support and we’re working on getting financially stable – we just felt it was really hard to drive enough traffic to the Northeast at this time.”

Now, Art Garden KC is charging a $10 booth fee, which will go toward operations and next season. The City Market Park is a temporary location due to planned construction nearby.

“We were uncertain about the traffic that would come into that location, so we couldn’t justify charging a booth fee,” Alzanadi said of the Pendleton Heights location. “But at this location, we decided to charge a booth fee. It’s only $10, still keeping the barriers low for artists. We haven’t heard a single complaint about it.”

With the move, the organization lost the ability to host food trucks. Art Garden will be looking for a new home again next season.

“We’ve already had a ton of offers, and it’s really going to be kind of a bidding process of who can provide us the best situation, either traffic flow or an indoor/outdoor space for weather situations or permitting for streets or parks, whatever it is going to work out to help us out,” Alzanadi said. “Also, we prefer to help out a local community where there’s local businesses that could benefit from us being there.”

Now, they are focusing on development, fundraising and the vendors.They’re working on setting up a website with the help of Arts Asylum, and registering people as volunteers, and partnering with other arts nonprofits.

“Once we are stable in that sense, then we can justify being able to set up pop-ups or other events in the Northeast or other communities that need us that might be a little harder to drive tourism to,” Alzanadi said. “Having not made this move and taking this opportunity, we might not have made it to see next season, and right now it’s just about getting that brand out, getting the publicity out and keeping the vendors happy. The vendors are everything to us. If we lose them, there’s no point in doing it anymore.”
Art Garden KC is open 11-4 at City Market Park each Sunday.

“It was a bittersweet move,” Alzanadi said. “We love Pendleton Heights and the Northeast, and it was a beautiful start to Art Garden. Now that we’ve grown, we hope to be able to sustain it so that we can come back to the Northeast.”