Young musicians from the Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls will open the day. The Fear No Film festival will feature short movies by women, telling women’s stories. On the literary stage, a Utah mother and daughter will read from their joint memoir about navigating a misgendered adolescence.
Friday’s Women Who Rock Day — devoted to female artists and performers — is one new feature of this year’s Utah Arts Festival, June 20-23 at Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City, 200 E. 400 South.
Almost half of the performers and artists, including visual artists, musicians and first-time filmmakers, are new to the festival, now in its 43rd year.
“That seems to be the big question that people are asking: ‘Well, what’s the new stuff?’” said Lisa Sewell, executive director of the festival. “From our perspective, it’s always new.”
Saurus, a street theater act from Amsterdam, will make its first Utah Arts Festival appearance as this year’s highlight. The interactive performance by Close-Act Theatre stars dinosaurs 16 feet long and 22 feet tall that will wander the grounds in the afternoons and evenings, with performances tentatively set at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The creatures weave through the crowd so seamlessly that it can be hard to imagine there’s a person inside.
The idea to create Women Who Rock Day came from Dayna McKee, the festival’s new program coordinator over the performing arts. She approached Eugenie Hero Jaffe from KRCL 90.9 FM to collaborate on the project.
“I was shocked and enamored that she came to me with the idea,” said Jaffe. “I was really honored that she wanted to devote a day to Women Who Rock and specifically based on my feature that I do every day at 12 o’clock.”
Jaffe hit on the idea of spotlighting women after she devoted an entire day to female artists on International Women’s Day. She has been doing a Women Who Rock noontime set — playing classic to contemporary female artists from a range of genres — for six years now.
“I’m really excited about the headliner, Caroline Rose,” McKee added. “She’s just like a quirky millennial that kind of does social commentary but in a really fun and funky way.”
This will be the first time that Michelle Moonshine singer Michelle Gomez will be playing with her band at the arts festival. Describing the style of music they perform, she said, “We all come from different backgrounds, we pull from a lot of roots — old country music and folk.”
“It just kind of all comes together. It’s pretty diverse,” Gomez said. “It’s not any one thing.”
The Women Who Rock focus will be seen across the festival’s art platforms, from visual art to film to literary art performances on the Big Mouth stage to the technology section.
“I have to say, that part of it gives me chills,” said Jaffe. “Now that the film festival is on board and I know the Big Mouth Stage has women writers and poets and the tech component is really cool. ... It’s great to just have a celebration of women being creative and smart.”
In an art and technology area in front of The Leonardo, kids will be invited to create “make and take” projects using robots and other equipment. On Friday, women who lead the nonprofit CodeDevs will be featured, “working with kids and showing them how to code in an artistic way,” Sewell said.
The Women Who Rock slate at the Fear No Film festival will include films such as “One Cambodian Family Please For My Pleasure” by filmmaker A.M. Lukas, shown at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and “Human Again,” a music video by Utah filmmakers and sisters Sonia and Miriam Albert-Sobrino, assistant professors at the University of Utah.
Each program in the film festival, held in the Salt Lake City Public Library auditorium, features a group of short films and documentaries and runs about an hour. The Women Who Rock slate will be shown on Friday at 8 p.m., and again on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“We have 28 first-time filmmakers of the 94 total films,” said Derek Mellus, artistic director for film. “I think it’s somewhere in the 40 percentile range of female filmmakers versus male, which is higher than most film festivals.”
Each program is shown twice during the festival. All of the films are free and open to the public, as are literary workshops offered at the library.
Women will be featured as performers, poets — and emcees guiding the day’s events — in literary arts on Friday.
Emcees, new to the literary venue this year, will introduce the acts, make announcements and point the audience to other literary activities, such as workshops in the Community Writing Center and in the library.
Some performers at last year’s festival spoke out after a poet was heckled by an audience member and some mics were cut without warning, when material was deemed offensive by organizers. “The things that happened last year were unfortunate,” said Trish Hopkinson, the new coordinator over the literary arts program.
“Certainly this year we’re aware of those things... and we did make some changes to make sure that those aren’t going to be issues,” she said.
New language in contracts with performers make clear the expectations regarding language and content, she said. The emcees will “keep the atmosphere of the stage really positive and accepting,” she added. They will “keep the mood where it needs to be to help everyone feel included and enforce some consistency, so that when people come to the Big Mouth Stage, they know what to expect.”
In the past, there were many out-of-state performers; this year, the majority are from Utah.
“One of the big things that I think was important this year was to make sure that we really included a wide variety of diverse communities that we have in Utah,” Hopkinson said.
Mother/daughter duo Nan Seymour and Beatrice Washburn, first-time readers at the arts festival this year, have written a memoir together about Beatrice’s misgendered adolescence.
The pair have finished writing their book, titled “An Unremarkable Girl,” and are seeking a publisher. They will be reading from different chapters in tandem.
“I really appreciate the obvious inclusion of transgender women and cisgender women,” Seymour said. “... We’re happy to be holding part of the conversation about gender and the evolving understanding of gender.”
It’s essential to move toward a more inclusive society, she added, “and art leads that.”
“There’s more pressure on art because art is a leader,” Seymour said. “Writing is a leader. There’s a lot to live up to, and I think [festival organizers] are doing a good job. And we, as a society, can always do better, and we have to do better.”
UTAH ARTS FESTIVAL
When • June 20-23, noon to 11 p.m.
Where • Library Square, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Available at uaf.org and the box office. Adults, $15; Thursday/Friday lunchtime special, $8 (noon-3 p.m. only); seniors (65+) and military, $8; children 12 and younger, free; four-day festival pass, $50. Cash only at the gates.
Coverage of downtown Salt Lake City arts groups is supported by a grant from The Blocks, a cultural initiative of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.