Over two blocks and four days, the Utah Arts Festival packs a world of experiences.
One can watch dancers climb the walls, interact with street performers, look at and buy art objects, see short films, help create community artworks, eat a variety of food, listen to musical acts from all over, and let the kids make their own crafts.
Here’s a sample of what’s happening at this year’s Utah Arts Festival (running June 20-23), by way of 4 artists:
Amelia Rudolph loves the Salt Lake City Library building, but not just because it has lots of books and a comfortable reading areas.
The part of the library she’s most familiar with, as dancer and artistic director of the vertical dance troupe Bandaloop, is the curved glass wall that faces out onto Library Square — and will become the stage for the group’s gravity-defying choreography during performances at the Utah Arts Festival.
“There’s something about the fact that it’s glass, so it’s reflective,” Rudolph said in a recent phone interview. “It allows us [seemingly] to double the number of dancers that we have.”
And, at five stories, the library is not too big and not too small. “We’re not so high above the audience that they can’t see the detail that we’re doing,” she said.
This marks the second time Bandaloop has performed at the Utah Arts Festival, and Rudolph recalled that the audience was warm and generous. (She said someone sent a note to one of her dancers, asking her jokingly “to be his fifth wife.”) The troupe has practiced a group piece designed specifically for the Salt Lake City audience.
Rudolph founded the troupe in 1991, and the group has traveled the world performing from harnesses on the sides of buildings. Bandaloop received national TV exposure earlier this week when the dancers figured prominently in a date on ABC’s reality series “The Bachelorette.” At 50 and with a 2-year-old, Rudolph doesn’t dance as much as she used to, but she still directs the troupe.
Dancing sideways, she said, “looks really easy, but it’s a lot of work. It’s literally harder for dancers to remember the choreography.” She said that being tipped sideways, with the fluid in one’s inner ear sloshing around, can affect the dancers’ balance and with it their muscle memory.
Bandaloop will perform at 6 and 8 each night of the festival, capturing the pre-dusk light that filmmakers call “magic hour.”
The troupe uses some artificial light “to illuminate the dancers,” Rudolph said, adding that “I really enjoy natural light, especially toward the end of the day. … You can’t hide anything — not that you can hide anything anyway, doing what we do.”
The first time that Salt Lake City photographer and graphic designer Stephanie Swift applied to display her work at the Utah Arts Festival, it wasn’t for the usual reasons of artistic expression and ambition.
“My sister hounded me to apply to the festival, and I did it to get her off my back,” Swift said in a recent phone interview.
Now Swift’s digitally enhanced photo prints of Utah neon landmarks, bearing her brand Pretty Little Pixel, are a regular feature at the festival. This year, she is an invited artist at the festival’s Artist Marketplace, which boasts 162 artists selling their wares — 45 of them from Utah, and 64 displaying at the festival for the first time.
Swift, who works by day as a graphic designer, was hired several years ago to develop a trade-show booth that looked like a comic book. She experimented with adding bright colors to photographs, and “it was something I really liked, so I just kept doing it,” she said.
Her specialty is taking photos of famous Salt Lake City landmarks, particularly old neon signs, and digitally adding color. Some of her most popular prints show the Cotton Bottom Inn, the Tower Theatre and the now-gone Bill and Nada’s Cafe.
Recently, Swift started putting her designs on household items. She experimented by decorating an old chair. Then she tried a fabric transfer and discovered she could make pillows.
“I said, ‘Oh, great, I can make pillows,’ ” she said. “Then I said, ‘Oh s---, I can make pillows. Now I have to sell them.’ ”
She isn’t sure if the objects will sell. “If it doesn’t work, then everyone I know will have a Cotton Bottom chair for Christmas,” she said.
The toughest part of Swift’s art is finding usable images for places that aren’t around anymore.
“It took me three years to find the Dee’s clown,” she said, referring to the mascot of the old Utah burger chain. And she would love to get her hands on a photo of the old Terrace Ballroom, which was demolished in 1981.
“If I had a time machine, you know how bitchin’ my life would be right now?” she said with a laugh.
Portland Cello Project
Is the cello a chick magnet?
“Not as much as a guitar,” said Douglas Jenkins, leader and arranger of the Portland Cello Project, one of the headlining musical acts at the Utah Arts Festival. The group, known as PCP, performs Sunday, June 23, at 9:45 p.m. on the festival stage.
The cello may be the perfect instrument, though. “It has the range of the human voice, from the low lows of a baritone to the high highs of a soprano,” Jenkins said in a recent phone interview. “You can get attached to every single sound you’re bringing out of it.”
The cellists of PCP bring out a lot of sounds. Their playlist goes beyond the classical standards to include songs by Radiohead and Kanye West.
The band started in 2007, Jenkins said, with “a confluence of random, serendipitous good events” involving several cellists who were living in the Portland, Ore., area.
They got together to play some music and have a few beers, and one night decided to play at a rock club. They performed some classical works, but the number that got the most response was a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”
They once played A-ha’s “Take On Me” at the halftime of a Portland Trailblazers game, and one of their crowd favorites is a version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya.”
The band’s current tour is called “Beck, Brubeck and Bach.” The group’s repertoire has long included Johann Sebastian Bach and jazzman Dave Brubeck. PCP’s arrangement of Brubeck’s “Take Five” includes a bit of Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible” theme, which also was written in 5/4 time.
The group recently recorded an album, “Beck Hansen’s Song Reader,” with songs taken from a project that Beck published in the online literary magazine McSweeney’s. It consisted of an album’s worth of songs, but Beck didn’t record them — he printed them as sheet music.
“We didn’t know what to expect, because we had never heard the songs,” Jenkins said.
While purists may scoff at classical musicians playing pop music, Jenkins sees a connection.
“They all speak the same language,” he said. “It’s all the same 12 notes, it’s the same concept of harmony.”
Amber DeBirk has worked a booth at the Utah Arts Festival before, selling her fused-glass artwork.
This year, the Salt Lake City artist is setting up shop at a different part of the event: the food row.
DeBirk is proprietor of Wasatch Pops, which sells ice pops and shaved ice from a trailer at the weekly Millcreek Community Market and other events.
She started the business because her oldest daughter, Indy, now 7, had severe food allergies and couldn’t enjoy the summer treats other kids ate.
It started with organic syrups over shaved ice, she said, and branched into ice pops — all of them vegan and nut-free. “We’ve had fun with it,” she said.
DeBirk offers flavor combinations you typically won’t see in your grocer’s freezer. One of her most popular is a cucumber citrus cilantro. “I still get the strange look, like ‘That’s a popsicle?!?’ ” she said.
At the Utah Arts Festival, DeBirk will be selling six flavors of ice pops — named Indy Pops, in honor of her daughter. “She’s my best sampler,” DeBirk said, though Indy’s little sister Willa, 6, helps out, too.
The six flavors are: cucumber citrus cilantro, coconut lime with fresh mint (sweetened with agave nectar), strawberry balsamic with black pepper, pineapple/serrano chile, Utah peach and raspberry lemonade.
Wasatch Pops joins a food lineup that includes barbecue, crêpes, pizza, cheesesteak sandwiches, kabobs, hot dogs, fruit juices, nuts, gelato, ice cream and ethnic dishes from Greece, Japan and Peru.
As a first-timer on the festival’s food row, DeBirk did some scouting. She went to the Utah Pride Festival early this month at Washington Square, near where her cart will be, to check out how the vendors there handled the crowd.
“When I saw the lines, I decided to double up,” she said. She now plans to make between 300 and 500 ice pops to sell each day to hot festivalgoers. “I’m probably overprepared,” she said.
She will be selling from an old-fashioned cart, with an umbrella to ward off the June sun.
“I wish I could bring our trailer,” she said of Wasatch Pops’ trademark camper. “At least it’s got air conditioning.”
The best of the rest
Here are a few other happenings at the Utah Arts Festival:
Music headliners • The range of acts includes Utah homeboys Royal Bliss, New Orleans band The Iguanas, world music from African Showboyz, Mexican-influenced band Y La Bamba, “junkyard” musician Shovelman, The Sensations Soul Band, blues rocker Kenny Neal, bluegrass band The Steeldrivers, “The Voice” contestant Ryan Innes, collaborative experiment Sound Mass and singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.
Local music • A wealth of Utah bands will be performing, including King Niko, Holy Water Buffalo, Big Blue Ox and Orquesta Latino.
Street theater • BBoy Federation will be performing street dance moves around the grounds, and the Salt Lake City drum group Kenshin Taiko will play Japanese-style percussion at The Round (by the Library).
Fine Art Exhibition • The All-State Utah High School Art Exhibition will bring its touring show, featuring works from 16 up-and-coming artists, to the prime space of the fourth-floor gallery of the City Library.
Art Yard • Children can get hands-on with arts and crafts projects, and the instrument petting zoo (sponsored by Summerhays Music Center) lets kids try out band and orchestra instruments. There’s also a stage for kid performers to show their talents.
Film • The Fear No Film Festival includes some 40 short films from filmmakers both homegrown and far-flung. The shorts programs at the City Library auditorium will have some adult content, but there’s a kids’ program playing at the Art Yard.
Literary arts • Comic-book authors Anina Bennett and Paul Guinan (“Boilerplate”) return to teach interactive workshops. Also, the Big Mouth Stage will feature performance poets and a Team Slam performance. And the “Mailbox Diaries” display will allow festivalgoers to add their own entries on the subjects of grief and love.
The Leonardo • Salt Lake City’s art-and-tech museum is open to festivalgoers, with exhibits on the second-floor galleries and workshops in the Art Lab. (Admission to the new exhibit, “101 Inventions That Changed the World,” is $5 in addition to the festival admission.)
Urban Arts • Take part in a community art project by painting a piece of a 20-foot puzzle mural, or help local graffiti artists on the “interactive graffiti wall.” Spy Hop will be running its Found Sound Studio, mixing noises from around the grounds into music, and creating “an undercover animation project.”
Utah Arts Festival
Where • Library Square, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
When • Thursday through Saturday, June 20-23.
Hours • Noon to 11 p.m. each day.
Admission • $12 a day for adults; free for kids 12 and younger; $6 for seniors 65 and older; $35 for a four-day pass.
Discounts • $10 opening-day special Thursday only; $6 lunchtime special, Thursday and Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; and a “y’all come back” pass, good for 2-for-1 admission on a return visit, available upon exit.