Preview: Everything and the kitchen sink at the Utah Arts Festival
It's strange, says Lisa Sewell, executive director of the Utah Arts Festival, what people remember from past years.
"Of all the acts we've had, people say to me, 'You guys had those guys on the swinging poles,' " Sewell said.
Those guys are a street theater group from Australia, Strange Fruit, that performed at the arts festival 11 years ago. People still remember them so they're back this year.
The high-altitude Australians are just one of the many attractions with a range that encompasses music, visual art, food, film, literary arts, kids' activities, workshops and more that will fill Salt Lake City's Library Square and Washington Square, Thursday through next Sunday.
In terms of sheer numbers and real estate, visual artists are the centerpiece of the Utah Arts Festival.
Out of 500 applicants, the festival's visual-arts jury has selected 163 artists to display and sell their works in the Artists Marketplace, said marketplace coordinator Matt Jacobsen.
"It's a huge honor to be part of such a long-running, prestigious event," said Nikki Root, a glass artist from Providence, in Utah's Cache Valley, who is showing her work for the first time at the Utah Arts Festival.
Root, a stained-glass artist for 20 years, found her passion three years ago when she was cleaning a Depression glass bowl she got from her mother.
As Root tells it, she held the glass up to the light, "and I said, 'It's a shame I can't enjoy it.' The light came on, and I started cutting. â¦ I told my husband, 'I'm a freaking genius.' "
Since then, Root has been incorporating found glass objects into her windowlike frames.
"My art usually focuses on something that's ignored, and that's the bottom," Root said.
For Serg Wiaderny, a Polish-born abstract photographer who makes his home in Draper, inspiration came after a ski trip to Snowbird with his daughter.
"I was looking for a long time at a rock," Wiaderny said, noting that he had long been fascinated with nature. On the drive back down the canyon, he said, "I tell my daughter, 'I'm going to be a photographer.' "
Much research at the Draper library followed, along with experimentation on what became his signature style: macro-photography, extreme close-ups, of paint floating on water.
"I drop the paint or ink, any colorful substance, into the water," he said. "I let it spread. I drain it, too. Let it separate. Sometimes the paint will flow itself. Sometimes it needs a little bit of time."
The results are other-worldly abstracts that some people mistake for paintings, not photographs, he said.
This year is Wiaderny's first time at UAF. "It's a great exposure I know thousands of people are going up there, and hopefully they'll enjoy my work," he said.
It's also the first time for California artist Sondra Wampler, who makes digital collages that combine the natural and the human-made in interesting ways.
Wampler said her current collages were inspired by the idea that "if we left the Earth alone, nature would reclaim it."
So her works feature notable landmarks, like New York's Flatiron Building or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, looking overgrown with vegetation and populated by animals.
"Some people look at it and say it's post-apocalyptic. It is, but it's peaceful," Wampler said.
Salt Lake City painter Karen Horne has been attending the Utah Arts Festival for years. She's also been painting it along with other cityscapes that capture Salt Lake City's vibrant cultural scene.
"I have painted landscapes, but I'm much more attracted to people in the landscape, or a more urban view," said Horne, whose works are featured in the festival's main gallery, on the fourth floor of the City Library.
"I'm really attracted to color, and an urban landscape offers more chances for a crazy range of colors," she added.
Horne may be best known for her paintings of the Capitol Theatre she's done a couple dozen of them, from many angles and in all seasons. She's recently added landmarks such as the Peery Hotel, the Tower Theatre and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center to her repertoire.
Horne will be teaching a workshop, "Creating Color Worlds," Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. in the library's Special Collections room. (There's a $35 fee, for materials, and online pre-registration is required at uaf.org/workshops.) It's one of a series of visual-arts workshops UAF has scheduled.
An opening reception for Horne's exhibit is set for Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. For those who can't wait for the festival to start, Horne will take part in an event today during the library's regular hours, 1 to 5 p.m.
Before Robert Paterson starts rehearsing the chamber-music work he's been commissioned for writing for this year's Utah Arts Festival, he has to go to find a kitchen sink.
"I may take some mallets with me to the hardware store," he said, chuckling at the plight of a poor store employee who may see him testing housewares for their tonal quality.
The New York-based Paterson, who won the festival's Chamber Ensemble Commission, has a habit for playful musical themes. He's written an operatic soliloquy about a sexbot, a suite for Foghorn Leghorn, and a work setting music to quotes by New York Mets legend Mike Piazza.
For his UAF commission, Paterson hit upon the idea of writing a work inspired by Hell's Kitchen, the famously rough-and-tumble neighborhood near his New York home.
Taking the name a bit more literally, he said he thought, "What would it be like to have a kitchen in hell?"
Thus was born his work "Hell's Kitchen," which not only creates musical themes for cooking techniques but also uses kitchen implements as instruments. (The work debuts Saturday at 4 p.m. in the City Library auditorium.)
"I've got two blenders, a coffee grinder, pots and pans," he said. "Many of them have really beautiful sounds."
And, in the finale, Paterson literally is putting in the kitchen sink.
"My primary goal is to connect with people who are around me now," he said of his light approach to classical music. "I hope my music survives after I'm gone. But if I don't connect with people now, there's no way it will last later."
The Intermountain Acoustic Music Association is incorporating its annual folk-music festival within the Utah Arts Festival.
"I asked them, 'Why don't you put your festival in our festival?' " Sewell said.
On Friday and Saturday, IAMA will run its songwriter academy, taught by musicians Kate MacLeod and John McCutcheon. Saturday at noon, on the Big Mouth Stage, 10 singer-songwriters will compete in the Susanne Millsaps Singer Songwriter Showcase, each performing two songs before a panel of judges.
The winner of the showcase will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on the Festival Stage opening for McCutcheon, who plays at 9 p.m., and bluegrass/jam band Mountain Heart at 9:50 p.m.
The music lineup for the Utah Arts Festival is loaded with national headliners, in styles that vary from cowboy duets to African beats.
Thursday is a blues double bill at the Amphitheater Stage, with old-school blues singer Cee Cee James at 8:30 p.m. and Serbian blues guitarist Ana Popovic at 9:55 p.m.
Friday's lineup includes Blair Crimmins & The Hookers, a Dixieland/ragtime jazz revival band (Amphitheater Stage, 8:30 p.m.); African singer Angelique Kidjo (Festival Stage, 9:45 p.m.); and Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a psychedelic/vintage rock band founded by the frontman of The Black Crowes (9:45 p.m., Amphitheater Stage).
On Saturday, classic Western/country vocal duo Vince & Mindi perform on the Garden Stage at 7:15 p.m. Later, at 9:45 p.m. at the Park Stage, Josiel Perez's AC Jazz Project, a collaboration of Cuban musicians, will get people dancing.
Sunday's headliners are musical oddities. Harper and Midwest Kind, playing at 9 p.m. on the Park Stage, is a funk/blues world-fusion band whose leader, Australian Peter D. Harper, plays harmonica and didgeridoo.
MarchFourth Marching Band, playing at 9:45 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage, is a blues/jazz/funk ensemble with a cabaret-style act that includes dancers and stilt acrobatics. (Both groups will be performing elsewhere at the festival Saturday and Sunday.)
It's not easy putting the written word in an arts festival.
"Writing is an insular thing," said Adam Love, who takes over this year as coordinator of the Utah Arts Festival's literary program. "We've tried to make it much more festival-friendly."
Rather than the traditional poetry-reading format, where one author after another reads from their work, Love is aiming for a program that engages the audience.
In addition to taking submissions from authors, Love and his team "solicited a few folks I knew I could sustain an audience." Those include writers who have gone viral, comedians from Wiseguys Comedy Club, and an expansion of the slam poetry programs including a team slam competition with 10 groups from across the West.
Love invited the writers of the locally made comic book "Salt City Strangers" to do a reading, and they did him one better. They've created a play, involving the book's superhero characters, that includes audience participation. "They're using the play to get the audience to contribute to their next couple of issues," Love said.
Food Row on 200 East is a staple of the Utah Arts Festival. This year, vendors will be serving up kebabs and tacos, pizza and cheesesteak, crÃªpes and gelato, hot dogs and tacos, and lots more.
The food service will also get combative, as festival organizers are planning a chef competition from 1 to 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday with the finals at the same time Saturday. Local chefs will be tasked with creating a dish using a basket of items from Utah food sources.
Each day, from 4 to 11 p.m., Master Chef Robert "Sully" Sullivan will be creating edible works of art, just west of the Festival Stage. And each night from 5 to 10, students from the Art Institute of Salt Lake City will create culinary masterpieces for UAF patrons.
"Film is always a solitary art form," said Topher Horman, who coordinates the Fear No Film Festival, the cinematic component of the Utah Arts Festival.
To make film more inclusive, Horman has chosen 50 short films from 500 submissions plus a dozen or so invited entries and distributed them into seven programs that play in the City Library auditorium.
On a hot day, the short films can be a welcome relief. "You can step in, enjoy an hour's worth and go back out," Horman said.
The programs are themed, each concerning different types of boundaries personal, societal, historical, global, artistic, relationships and "The Way You See Others."
Some of the films are homegrown particularly the seven in the Utah Short Film of the Year competition (see one, "Realm of Possibility," below), a Fear No Film staple. Others come from as far away as Germany, France, Australia, Serbia, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Iran and Turkey.
There also are two kids programs one for ages 3 and older, the other for ages 8 and older playing on screens in tents, from noon to 8 p.m., in the Art Yard near the City County Building.
• Full programs of street theater are planned in the late afternoon and evening all four nights of the festival. Everything from breakdancing to aerial arts is on the schedule.
• The Art Yard, for kids, has make-and-take crafts, a stage for young performers, a toddler zone for the under-4s, and an instrument "petting zoo" that allows children to test-drive a musical instrument.
• The Leonardo, at 209 E. 500 South, will expand its regular artist residency program during the festival with CoLABorART, featuring collaborative art projects by local artists. Access to The Leo's regular exhibits is free during the festival, and discount tickets for the Body Worlds exhibit "Animal Inside Out" will be on sale: $2.60 on Thursday, $2.70 on Friday, $2.80 on Saturday and $2.90 on Sunday.
• A highlight of the Urban Arts Program is a showcase of Utah's "maker" community folks who find artistic applications for electronics, robotics, 3-D printing and such. These include a "Pixels to Paint" drawing robot application and an exhibit, "The Harmony of the Gears," that uses laser-cut acrylic gear systems to show what the UAF program describes as "the complex dance of cycles within cycles."
Utah Arts Festival
The 38th annual Utah Arts Festival features music, visual arts, film, literary arts, kids' activities, food, workshops and more.
When • Thursday through Sunday, June 26-29, noon to 11 p.m. each day
Where • Library Square, 200 East and 400 South, Salt Lake City
Admission • $12 for adults ($10 on Thursday); $6 for people 65 and older; $6 for adults on Thursday and Friday before 3 p.m. (the "lunchtime special"); free for children 12 and younger; $35 for a four-day pass
Information • Go to uaf.org or download the Utah Arts Festival mobile app.