In Salt Lake's downtown neighborhoods, artists are taking charge of their own economic well-being. These entrepreneurs are flexing their talents and forming alliances with the city to bridge material demands with expressive goals.
Artist entrepreneur Brittany Reese is helping to drive the movement by opening Sugar Space in River District, the first phase of a multi-use arts space on 800 West and about 200 South. Her long-range plan is to renovate the 10,000 square feet of old warehouse space into viable studios and a performance venue.
This isn't Reese's first crack at a hybrid career. In 2007, she opened Sugar Space, an interdisciplinary arts studio in an obscure strip mall behind the old Granite Furniture building in Sugar House. There she hosted multidisciplinary arts programs, performances, artist residencies and an arts preschool. Its success is the reason she went looking for the bigger shop. For now, the two businesses will run simultaneously.
"In order for the margin to work, I needed to increase the space," Reese said. "I was renting to a theater company that would have to strike the set every night so the dance company renting the same space could rehearse during the day."
Reese was ready to expand. Her passion for the arts blended with a small-business vision and nonprofit mission seemed to be working. But she knew she couldn't do it alone. So she looked for investors, received business mentoring from Helen Seltzer at SCORE, applied for loans through Utah's Office of Economic Development, expanded her business plan to include an artist cooperative, applied for a grant through the County's Cultural Facilities Program (pending) and turned to her artist-entrepreneur parents for some good old-fashioned sweat equity and moral support.
She also found support from a neighbor, City Council member Kyle LaMalfa, who represents District 2. The River District is the moniker for the businesses and activities in proximity to the Jordan River. The neighborhood revitalization includes increased public transit, improved bike and pedestrian thoroughfares and development of the Jordan River Parkway.
"We are thrilled to have Brittany in the neighborhood," LaMalfa said. "With the addition of TRAX and other improvements, this area and its 100-year-old historic homes and other architectural gems [are] being transformed."
While Reese is still seeking business and real-estate investors, sponsors and support through public and private donations, she found an investor in fellow dancer Debbie Robertson. Robertson is the go-to gal for tap dance in Salt Lake City but had a hard time finding a studio that would let her use tap shoes on its floor.
"Now that I'm an investor, this is my floor too," Robertson said. "I love Brittany's philosophy of creating a communal place for artists to work and teach that is not attached to an established company or organization and is affordable."
Anyone can rent space, but those who want a consistent space and aren't at the level of investor can be co-op members.
Dancer and choreographer Michael Garber left his professional career in NYC to get a degree in dance from the University of Utah. As a co-op member, Garber receives a reduced rental rate and a consistent rehearsal time to work on choreography. He has also invested enough time to be considered an honorary member of the Reese family sweat-equity club, along with Robertson and others.
"When you give to the space, it gives back to you," Garber said.
Choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen has been rehearsing at the new Sugar Space for the debut of her new company, NOW I.D. As another arts innovator in the Salt Lake City dance scene, Boye-Christensen said she was impressed by Reese's vision and drive. "I think what she is doing is fabulous."
"I'm ambitious. I love to try new things and see if they work," said Reese, who has a BFA in dance from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. "The excitement I enjoyed as a dancer is something I want to re-create right here where I am. I want to make the magic for me and everyone around me."
If the past few years are any indication, Reese does seem to have the magic touch.
Growing Sugar Space
Sugar Space has completed the first phase of a multi-use arts space on 800 West and about 200 South, an area called The River District. Here are some of the arts groups using the space.
Transfusion Hype Dance
BodyLogic Dance company
Renaissance Movement Parkour
Kathryn Brinkerhoff (bellydancing)
Tanja London (modern dancers/dance filmmaker)
Debbie Robertson (tap dancing)
Charlotte Boye Christensen, owner of NOW International Dance
Michael Garber, dancer/choreographer
Global Underscore Group