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“Gus Explores Southeast Kansas” earns tourism honor 

Bella Mezzacapo photojournalist  

What started as a project for art students turned into a coloring book with a purpose. The purpose is to teach guests as well as local children about Southeast Kansas. However, the students also learned about the area in the process. 

“One of our courses coming out of the pandemic, that’s an upper-level course in the business of art, they usually do like a pop-up gallery or some other kind of business-related thing to the arts,” said James Oliver, chair of the arts department at PSU. “And so, we knew in the fall of 2021 that, or I guess before that, our students weren’t going to have that opportunity because people were still nervous about COVID. We didn’t want to have, you know, a large group of people in a room, that kind of thing where students might be selling and handling lots of things and that kind of thing. So, we pitched to that set of students the possibility and the experience of developing something, in this case, a coloring book centered on PSU.” 

The coloring book, “Gus Explores Southeast Kansas,” was produced by Explore Crawford County, in partnership with the arts department as well as University Marketing and Communications. 

“Shortly thereafter it was adopted by the graduation committee, and it was given out in the spring to little kids that came to watch their family member graduate,” Oliver said. “Later on, Chris approached me about this possibility of this broader Crawford County project, and it ultimately ended up being a Southeast Kansas related coloring book. We gave that opportunity to students in our department, and they specifically developed it in conjunction with Explore Crawford County related to all the areas that they particularly wanted to highlight.” 

Although the coloring book started as a simple project that would only impact the students, it turned into so much more when Explore Crawford County got involved. 

“Our primary goal is to help market our area to outsiders,” said Chris Wilson, Communications Manager of Explore Crawford County. “We bring people in for events and those kinds of things, we remind them, ‘Hey, don’t forget there’s PSU football this weekend,’ those kinds of things. That’s a big part of what we do, part of that is making sure that when they are here, that they have something to do, especially if they have kids. So that was kind of where this originally started with the coloring book, was we wanted to have something with visitors who were coming. If their kids could just have something silly that they could do at the hotel or whatever and they could learn a little bit about the area and maybe go, ‘oh wow, that’s a cool little park, maybe we ought to go to that.’ And then we found out, when I approached Dr. Oliver about it, that the art department had already worked on something like what we were looking for, we just needed something to kind of promote our area as a whole, not just campus.” 

So, through the partnership of the Department of Art on campus and Explore Crawford County, and some help from University Marketing and Communications, “Gus Explores Southeast Kansas” was born. Not only did the project become a reality, but it won an award as well. On Oct. 19, the collaborative coloring book won first place in the 2022 Small Budget Print category at the Travel Industry Association of Kansas Marketing Awards contest. Additionally, the first 2,500 copies of the book ran out so fast that an additional 5,000 copies were printed.  

To get copies of “Gus Explores Southeast Kansas,” visit http://www.ExploreCrawfordCounty.com. 

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