Entrepreneurs, you're never too young to improve life in Salt Lake City
Arts • The Project is an idea, but also a 15,000-square-foot warehouse just outside downtown, a hub of art, music and community events.

By Austin Green

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: July 12, 2013 07:58AM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:35PM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Tomas Mier sews a pocket onto a shirt for Positive, an urban apparel company, in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 5, 2013.

One of them crushes two Camel Silvers in a 10-minute span. Another once lied multiple times to land the biggest job of his life. The oldest spent his childhood in one of the poorest, most violent cities in Los Angeles County. And the other two — they used to run their business out of a freakin’ pigeon coop.

But don’t be fooled by these humble beginnings or skater lifestyles. As unlikely as it may seem, these are the faces of Salt Lake City’s promising future, and they know exactly what they’re doing.

Check any recent ranking of the best American cities for young adults, and chances are you’ll find Salt Lake City somewhere in the top five. The rankings point to the city’s low cost of living and high level of economic opportunity, the low unemployment rates and the high percentage of young people. What they don’t mention is the collective ambition and creativity it takes to stay on top of such lists.

Enter The Project.

The Project is both tangible and abstract. It is an ever-changing 15,000-square-foot warehouse just outside downtown, a budding hub of art, music and community events. It is also an idea, a collective thought shared by a group of 20-somethings who use the warehouse as headquarters for their slew of businesses.

The group runs four separate entities out of The Project, although with its habit of quick expansion, that number may change at any moment.

For now, there are Inkwell, a printing company; Positive, an urban apparel company; Elm Productions, which provides musicians with audio and video production, as well as event booking; and Revolution United, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that finds creative ways to build community togetherness.

The five young men who run the four businesses help each other as much as they can. They split rent on the warehouse — on 700 South and about 200 West — promote each other’s projects and serve as a source of inspiration when necessary. They share everything at The Project in an attempt to achieve one overarching goal: creating a better life for themselves and the people of Salt Lake City.

“I’m a single guy, no family, no kids,” said Evan Moore, 24, co-owner of Elm Productions. “I gotta pay my bills and I gotta eat, and that’s it, you know? Aside from that I just like to have a good time and have fun with my friends and give people something they want to do. So that’s our ultimate goal — to provide community-driven events.”

Moore said since renting the space in February, they have hosted art shows, concerts, movie screenings and workshops. A local dance team uses it for weekly practices.

“We’re here to serve the community and help ourselves grow in the process,” he said.

Torian Jabrill, a filmmaker who joined Elm Productions in the spring, said the first thing he noticed about The Project was the cooperation among Moore, his partner Chase Reed, Positive owner Jordon Madison and Revolution United founder David Brooks.

“There’s no ego here, man,” Jabrill said. “Anybody can talk to anybody about anything. Everyone realizes that by helping each other, they can help themselves.”

New revolution • Brooks, who constantly talks about the idea of interdependence, understands this better than anyone. He’s the oldest of the group, the one who cried tears of joy during the last space-shuttle launch, the one who paraphrases Gandhi on a regular basis. After leaving California to attend Weber State University on a football scholarship, Brooks earned a degree in design engineering with an emphasis on psychology of consciousness.

About a year ago, the now-28-year-old founded Revolution United in hopes of helping people lead better lives. After initially receiving funding from a company that helps nonprofits get off the ground, Brooks’ idea came to fruition.

The concept of Revolution United is beautifully simple: It is essentially a recirculating pool of money, and the community dictates how that money will be spent. Brooks will name a problem within society, such as homelessness or youth apathy or a struggling economy, and ask the community for ideas on how to solve that problem. After a few weeks of crowdsourcing, mostly through social media, he compiles the possible solutions and community members vote for their favorite option.

Then, Brooks steps in to make their ideas happen.

“I don’t really have much say in [the voting]. My objective is to bring in funds and spread awareness of what it is,” Brooks said. “We’ll find volunteers, we’ll find resources, we’ll find collaborators, sponsors, and just make a collective impact in the community by solving issues.”

Jaime Coates, who discovered Revolution United and The Project through a Craigslist post, said she was thrilled to see young people looking to help their community.

“When I heard about Revolution United I was excited because they’re trying to do something I had been trying to do on my own, which is connecting people through socially conscious projects,” Coates said. “It felt almost serendipitous meeting David, because he’s doing what so many people want to do on their own.”

In June, as a solution to youth apathy, Revolution United helped local teens produce their own art festival at The Project. This Saturday, as a solution to improve the local economy, the group is holding a “Ride and Shoot” scavenger hunt. (See info box for details.)

To participate, community members — many of whom, like Coates, learned about The Project through social media — will form teams and use alternative means of transportation to travel around the city. They will be guided into local businesses, where they will take a picture of themselves with a certain item that the business wants to showcase. Brooks said the event will benefit the community in multiple ways.

“It’s supporting local businesses by getting patrons in the door, it’s supporting the idea that Salt Lake City is bikeable, and lastly it builds community, it builds friendships,” he said. “Those three reasons are enough for Revolution United to be behind it.”

Brooks said that when he meditated on the idea of Revolution United, he knew it would be successful. He just didn’t realize how quickly his idea would be embraced.

“It’s difficult to sell an idea, especially these days. There’s so many ideas out there, there’s so many movements happening, and it’s difficult to step in and just be like ‘Here’s a new one, here’s another one, hopefully you guys take it on.’ ”

Brooks said the beautiful thing about Revolution United is there’s no limit to what’s possible. Unlike other nonprofits that must cater to a specific goal, Revolution United is whatever the people want it to be in a given week.

“We can be in any sector, we can help any sector. I’m surprised the government allowed us to be an entity with Revolution United and how widespread it is,” Brooks said before donning a sly, satisfied smile. “It’s an alternative to the systems that exist.”

Despite their recent success, Brooks and the rest of The Project crew have no intention of becoming complacent. They’re looking to hold more events in their venue space, expand their clothing, printing and production companies, and continue to make Salt Lake City an ideal destination for young adults. Brooks said all it takes is a collaboration of ambitious and creative minds.

“Once you realize that you can build everything or design everything or how you can create pretty much anything, what else is there to do, you know, other than to create?” he said. “And that’s what drives me. That’s the only thing that drives me. And uniting people to create — that’s the highest level of humanity.”

agreen@sltrib.com

Twitter: @AustinAGreen

Ride and Shoot scavenger hunt

When • Saturday, July 13, 2 to 5 p.m.; awards and barbecue at 6

Where • The Project, 258 W. 700 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $10 per team (no limit on team size)

More info • revolutionunited.org