History meets innovation in Wichita, along with a pleasantly surprising host of performing-arts talent.
Wichita is centrally located and accessible and has a rich Wild West history, entrepreneurial and high-tech spirit, university town vitality, and attractions that lure people from all over the region and country.
“Coupled with the nicest people you can find,” said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Wichita has what really resonates with the heart of America.”
The arts represent an often-overlooked facet of Wichita culture. Santo said that the level of art often surprises people, but locals take great pride in their city and you can find art interwoven throughout the area.
Perhaps the most iconic piece of art in Wichita is “The Keeper of the Plains,” a 44-foot-tall statue that sits on sacred Indian ground where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers meet.
“The way it’s been designed, every piece represents a different tribe and the collection of all of them,” Santo said. “It doesn’t matter if you have visited 100 times or if you’re a local; when you look at it against the backdrop of the city or a phenomenal sunset, it’s very moving.”
Wichita’s performing arts also rival those of any other major city, and it has one of only 80 opera houses in the country, the Wichita Grand Opera. Music Theater Wichita acts as the training grounds for actors and music theater performers, and Santo said it is not uncommon to see a Broadway show with a former Wichita trainee in the cast. There is also Wichita Symphony Orchestra, a professional music organization.
Museums on the River features five museums along the Arkansas River: Botanica, Exploration Place, the Mid-America All-Indian Center, the Old Cowtown Museum and the Wichita Art Museum.
One of the favorite venues for off-site events is the Old Cowtown Museum. About 40 buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be found there, among them a schoolhouse and a jail, where historical re-enactments take place. There is also a more modern building for indoor activities, or groups can move out to the patio and host catered events. Other highlights are live music, actors portraying gunfights and barbecue lunches on the porch of the old saloon.
Old meets new at the premier science center Exploration Place, which is just a stone’s throw from “The Keeper of the Plains.” The modern architectural building is a great stop for tours or meetings, and groups can use rooms such as the Waterway Terrace, which overlooks the Arkansas River, or the Festival Plaza, a large outdoor area that can accommodate more than 1,000 people.
Primary meeting facility: Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center
Other meeting properties: Kansas Star Casino, Kansas Pavilions, Hartman Arena
Largest meeting space: Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center (200,000 square feet)
Total hotel rooms: More than 8,000
CVB website: www.gowichita.com