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2018 River Festival Final Recap

KSAL StaffAugust 20, 2018

Solid gate counts, steady advanced Button sales, new Art Installations and great entertainment were among takeaways of this year’s Smoky Hill River Festival, held June 7-10 in Oakdale Park.

Here’s a recap from Salina Arts and Humanities:

OVER THE RIVER: The Festival 2018 estimated gate count was 56,784 compared to 67, 381 for 2017, 56,351 for 2016 and 61,439 for 2015. Gate numbers for Thursday evening were the highest in five years and Friday attendance was comparable to years past. A faulty clicker may have contributed to the Saturday gate numbers being reported at 6,000 lower than in 2017. Vibrant programming, including more than 30 new artists and seven new food vendors, brought out Festival-goers, despite unseasonably high temperatures. Guests, vendors and exhibitors came from roughly 35 states, generating more than $3 million in local economic impact over three weeks.

BUTTON-UP: Local pre-Festival Button sales increased slightly. Approximately 10, 614 admission Buttons were sold compared to 10,517 in 2017 and 10,024 in 2016. Regional Button sales increased as well, at 622 compared to the 601 sold regionally in 2017 and 603 sold in 2016. The 2018 Button Retailer network was comprised of 31 outlets in 20 cities, with no new regional cities or Retailers for 2018, alongside 43 Salina locations. Overall, 19,718 admission Buttons were distributed or sold.
Also, select foundations and businesses underwrite several hundred Buttons yearly in the Festival Families First program. Thanks to this support, social-service agencies were able to distribute 718
admission Buttons and 900 drink coupons to families in need, to attend and enjoy Festival 2018.

ART NOUVEAU: Thirty first-time or ‘new back’ artists were among the more than 120 exhibitors in the Fine Art and Four Rivers Craft Show and the Art Demonstration area. The enhanced Art Patron Program offered more ways to involve new art enthusiasts, including a 2nd annual Thursday-night PREMIERE party attended by more than 250 artists and purchase patrons. Combined sales for the 2018 art show and Art/Craft Demo area were $364,158.55 compared to $410,346 in 2017 and $391,718 in 2016. The per-booth average for all show areas was $3,050, only $50 down from 2017, due in part to slightly fewer exhibiting artists in the Fine Arts Show in 2018.
Five of the 19 on-site Art Installations for 2018 were new, including “Polycultural Prosperity: Systematic Disruption” by returning artist Neil Goss, who worked in conjunction with The Land Institute; “Lego Printing” by Two Tone Press and the “Friends For Life” mural by Kansas City graffiti artist Scribe, installed right after the Festival at the Salina Animal Shelter. Also new was the multi-piece “Four Directions” installation on Festival staff golf carts, depicting animals that represented the cardinal directions of the Chinese constellations.
The popular 2018 Festival T-shirt featured a retro collage of sunflowers, artist palette, musical instruments and the Smoky Hill River, by Lawrence, KS artist Angie Pickman, also a Fine Art exhibitor and the designer of the limited-edition 2018 Festival Print, “Smoky Hill Sun Song.”

GET THE BEAT: Widely diverse music and entertainment on four live stages delighted Festival-goers over 3.5 days. From headliners Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas (Detroit) and The Main Squeeze (Chicago) to Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal and the Sunday-afternoon Elton Dan & The Rocket Band tribute act, genres included soul, blues, hip-hop, Latin, Brazilian steel, funk and rock ‘n’ roll. Returning acts Papa Green Shoes and Victor & Penny and the Loose Change Orchestra gathered fans each time they performed. Bravo Stage and Arty’s Stage featured a wide variety of dynamic spoken-word, dance, musical and roving acts, including returning favorites the Hip-Hop Wagon, Mr, Kneel, Drum Safari and “juggler and more” Jason D’Vaude. Kid-friendly act The Que Pastas from Austin debuted at Festival 2018. Up, Up and Away balloon artists created inflatable picture frames and a towering hot-pink flamingo, delighting Festival fans of all ages.

PINT-SIZED FUN: Artyopolis welcomed thousands of toddlers to pre-teens plus caregivers to explore the arts under the Creation Crossing tent and in other hands-on activities. Six local charitable organizations ran booths on the colorful Game Street, with more than 250 volunteers helping out in Artyopolis. Seventy-seven Festival artists donated 644 art works to the popular and unique First Treasures young-collectors tent, one of only a few such programs nationally.
MENUS GALORE: Festival fans enjoyed Food Row favorites plus seven first-time vendors in 2018. Popular new items included street tacos, flavored funnel cakes, fried ravoli, Philipino lumpia and Mediterranean fare. Food sales by the 36 vendors were down by about $30,000 in gross sales, at $263,160, compared to $293,547 for 2017.

MAKING IT HAPPEN: Three hundred fifty business or personal Festival sponsors contributed $311,677 in cash or in-kind services to support the River Festival. It takes about $650,000 in cash and in-kind support to stage the Festival each year. Remaining annual revenue comes from fees and commissions. Festival income typically exceeds expenses, with some proceeds going back to local cultural agencies each year to supplement their annual budgets.

“If I have heard one word over and over to describe this year’s Festival, it was ‘smooth,’ says Festival Director Brad Anderson. “Despite the unseasonably hot weather, everything just came together to provide wonderful offerings across the Festival’s 3.5 days. Fellow City departments, an incredible tech staff and many dedicated volunteers played key roles to help create a safe and relaxing environment for each of our Festival guests.”

For information on how to get involved in the Smoky Hill River Festival, Community Art & Design, Friday Night Live or other Salina Arts & Humanities programs, call 785-309-5770, visit

Copyright © Rocking M Media, 2018. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Rocking M Media’s express consent.

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