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Sean P. Means: Urban Arts Festival celebrates summer in the city

Published July 17, 2013 6:26 pm

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Derek Dyer, the director of the Utah Arts Alliance, and Salt Lake City artist Jimmi Toro agree that the term "urban art" is "pretty broad."

"I think of city, modern, hip, even if you want to go as far as ghetto," Toro said.

Dyer, whose Utah Arts Alliance is staging the third annual Urban Arts Festival this Saturday at Salt Lake City's The Gateway shopping center, defines "urban art" as "any creative expression derived from city life and culture."

"There's not going to be a lot of watercolors of sunflowers," he said.

Dyer rejects a narrower definition, which limits "urban art" to hip-hop music and graffiti painting. But on the performance side, he said, "urban art" isn't just hip-hop, but "also electronic, punk, soul, jazz. Any music that comes from the city."

The free event will feature more than 100 artists' booths, skateboarding demonstrations, an urban gardening area, a community wall for anyone to paint on, food vendors, a film festival and three stages: one for live music, one for DJs to spin tracks and a third for dance and other performance artists.

The festival will run down Rio Grande Avenue through both blocks of The Gateway and will take over some of the unused storefronts in the mall. A fashion show will take place in the space once occupied by Anthropologie, and the former J.Jill store will house a film festival.

The Utah Arts Alliance's partnership with The Gateway began in February, when the Urban Arts Gallery opened in the space below the Megaplex theater once occupied by American Eagle Outfitters. The store, like several others, relocated to the new shiny City Creek Center four blocks east.

Dyer said there is "really good energy" at the new gallery. "It's welcoming to a lot of different people, and a lot of people are actually buying art there."

The Urban Arts Festival began almost by accident, Dyer said. In 2011, the Utah Arts Alliance ran the Gray Wall Gallery on Pierpont Ave., and gallery manager Tamara Fox had organized an exhibition of skateboard decks. Fox suggested they hold a skateboarding competition in conjunction with the exhibition, Dyer said, "and it snowballed into 'let's have a big festival.' "

Toro, who is making his second appearance at the festival, doesn't try to limit himself with the "urban" label.

But he does strive to continually create new visuals, and "just in the course of trying to reinvent yourself and try something new, you sway away from the traditional," he said.

Toro, 40, said he tells young artists, "If you want to get good, be prolific. Always try to something a little different, or do this or that, and the nature of being prolific lends itself to change."

Change is at the heart of "urban art," Dyer said, because what was once outlaw is now accepted.

"When I was younger, skateboarding was a bad thing to do," he said. "Now, we taxpayers pay to have skateboard ramps built in our parks."

Likewise, an urban band like Red Hot Chili Peppers can go from drawing small crowds of skate punks to playing in arenas and having middle-aged newspaper columnists wearing the band's T-shirts.

"Just as a culture and community in general, we've warmed up to a lot of ideas," Dyer said. "We're just living in a new time now."

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. —

Urban Arts Festival

The third annual Urban Arts Festival, presenting visual art, dance, music, film and demonstrations.

Where • The Gateway, Rio Grande Ave. (450 West) between 50 North and 200 South, Salt Lake City

When • Saturday, July 20, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Admission • Free

Information • urbanartsfest.org