Within the massive L-shaped space that the Utah Arts Alliance is building the newest rendition of its immersive experience, Dreamscapes, one sees tools and a lot of reusable art scraps: VHS tapes, wrapping paper, beads, vinyl and paint.
Within the many rooms — breaking up 35,000 square feet inside what was once a Macy’s department store in The Shops at South Town in Sandy — are a mockup of a passenger plane’s cockpit, alien frogs, floating fish, hatching dragons, a wall of stuffed animals, and more.
Anyone who has visited the two previous versions of Dreamscapes, in different parts of The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City, will notice that a few of the ideas — and the materials — have been recycled.
“Everything from the old space has been repurposed in one way, shape or form, whether it’s been repainted or trimmed or used in other rooms,” said Suzanne Raia, the manager of Dreamscapes.
The arts alliance boasts that Dreamscapes is Salt Lake County’s number one partner in recycling. In 2021, the project received 6,613 pounds of donated material from the Salt Palace Convention Center — an equivalent of 27,097 pounds of carbon saved and 449 trees planted over a 10-year time period. The project also received 5,900 pounds of material from Sandy’s Mountain American Expo Center, equivalent to 25,085 pounds of saved carbon and 301 trees planted over the same period.
Some art materials are picked up from estate sales. The alliance works with the Salt Lake County Health Department, for example, to collect items like paint, instead of sending them to overflowing landfills. Other items come from Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center and ERIK’S North America, an industrial supply company. (A box of pipe-fitting materials the company donated included rubber bands that one artist is using to build a chandelier.)
Sustainability, said Derek Dyer, executive director of UAA and Dreamscapes’ artistic director, is the “very core” of their identity as an organization.
“It’s not about making money or just making pretty pictures,” Dyer said. “We’re trying to literally save the world.”
Only about a third of the 100,000-square-foot space that was once the Macy’s is being used for the exhibit the public will walk through. Other parts of it have become a storage space, an artists’ workshop area, and a “Bizarre Bazaar” to sell the work of local artists.
The former department store also will be repurposed as rentable event space, and an all-night lounge. And, with the amount of space available, organizers say every room will be ADA-accessible.
Guests will enter through one door, and be ushered through the interactive exhibits by a set path. The entrance will be flanked by two “merchants” of the bazaar, making it part of that journey — in the old museum tradition of exiting through the gift shop.
While past narratives of the exhibition have had visitors follow certain preconceived characters, with this Dreamscapes, the visitor is the main character. The visitor will be guided along the exhibit’s 23 rooms by five non-human characters, called “Dreamies” — each representing aspects of one’s personality.
“What we’re trying to get people to understand is about believing in their dreams and the power of their dreams, and how important that is to the rest of the world,” Dyer said.
The UAA signed its lease with South Town last November, and an opening date for the exhibition hasn’t been set. When The Tribune recently visited the space, the creation stage was just wrapping up, and several artists were at work.
Each of the 23 rooms has a lead artist, but Raia said as many as 20 different artists could be contributing to any given room — contributing objects, sound or lighting elements. In all there are 39 core artists, though since they’re repurposing material from past exhibitions, there could be work by 150 to 200 artists on display, she said.
“That’s one thing that’s so amazing about collaborative art: Anybody that puts a little stamp on it or their piece gets repurposed,” Raia said. “It’s like everybody feels that they’re a part of it.”
A teen artist finds a community
Izzy Beauchesne, 16, is one of those artists, whose work is featured in a number of rooms.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Beauchesne said she felt lost and not in a good place. Getting involved with Dreamscapes was “a happy accident, she said.
Beauchesne is incorporating her fascination with the human body in her artwork. For example, in one room, a ribcage piece is entangled in flowers.
“There’s a lot of misconception that death is this bad element,” she said of the piece. “Honestly, it’s something we need to embrace at the end of the day. As sucky as it is, you’re going to lose someone you love and there can be something very beautiful about death.”
Part of Dreamscapes’ appeal, she said, is the environment it has created for artists in which to flourish.
“In Utah, it’s a little bit harder to get your art across,” she said. “We have a really good community because of Dreamscapes and Utah’s land, because we’re able to share our art and meet other artists.”
Moving to the suburbs
Moving Dreamscapes to Sandy is exciting, Dyer said, because it’s a chance to engage with a demographic — people with families — who might not have wanted to venture into downtown Salt Lake City.
The move also is a sign of a bigger issue in Salt Lake City’s artist community: The rapid changes in downtown real estate.
Dyer noted that buildings that once housed art spaces in downtown Salt Lake City are being torn down or being used for non-art purposes. And the artists are being pushed out.
“It’s kind of a symptom of something that’s happening downtown, which is people being priced out,” Dyer said. “Artists are the first ones to go. Artists are the first ones to make the place desirable for people to want to be in, and the first ones that get kicked out.”
For now, though, Dyer is content with Dreamscapes being “the coolest thing in Sandy.”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.