South Salt Lake’s Mural Fest gains attention halfway into its 10-year plan

With 11 murals going up for Saturday’s unveiling, drab industrial walls are becoming colorful attractions.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rafael Blanco works on his mural on May 8, 2022, located on the south side of AMI Roofing at 140 W. Haven Ave. in South Salt Lake. It's one of 11 new works to be unveiled for the city's annual Mural Fest, on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

In 2018, South Salt Lake had virtually no public art — unusual for a central community along the Wasatch Front.

The industrial areas of the municipality just south of the city limits of Salt Lake City were “just asking for murals to be painted on them,” said Derek Dyer, executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance and the co-director of South Salt Lake’s Mural Fest project.

The project marks its fifth year on Saturday, May 14 — unveiling 11 new murals south of 2100 South between 300 West and State Street. The festival is a collaboration between the South Salt Lake City Arts Council and Dyer’s Utah Arts Alliance.

The unveiling happens Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. in South Salt Lake’s Industries Zone — along West Temple, but ranging from 300 West to State Street. Food trucks will be parked on West Haven Ave., between West Temple and the TRAX line. Visitors should look for the pink directional flags and balloons. For a map, including places to park, go to themuralfest.com.

The new murals will bring the total number of murals the project has added to South Salt Lake walls to 47. The goal, set by Dyer and co-director Lesly Allen, was to add 10 murals every year over 10 years, to get to 100 total. (In 2020, only seven murals were painted, because of complications brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, one of the new murals was painted over one of the 2018 entries.)

This year’s Mural Fest pored through 153 submissions to select the “top 10 … artists from all over the world,” Dyer said. The 11th artwork is the fourth panel of Salt Lake City artist Traci O’Very Covey’s “Habitat” series, which she has been painting on the side of the Mountain Land Design building since 2019.

Four of this year’s 10 artists are from Utah, four are from the rest of the United States, one is from Mexico and one is from Hungary.

Artist Rafael Blanco — born in Spain, and now living in a Chicago suburb — has been a studio artist for 20 years, and had his first experience with public art in 2014, when he was asked to paint a mural in 24 hours.

“It really opened the doors to a new type of art for me,” Blanco said. “It really transformed the way that I think about art and the process, because you are making it outside you have to be quick, you have to be at the mercy of the elements. But, a lot of people can see it.”

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rafael Blanco works on his mural on May 8, 2022 located on the south side of AMI Roofing at 140 W. Haven Ave. Blanco says public art transformed the way he thinks about art and the process.

This is Blanco’s second attempt applying for Mural Fest; he was an alternate previously. There aren’t many mural festivals across the country, he said, so it’s important to apply when you find one. “As a public artist, I’m always looking for projects, works or commissions,” he said.

Blanco has lived all over, including Nevada, and his time in the West — along with his artistic fascination with identity — inspired his mural, which will be on the south side of the AMI Roofing building, at 141 W. Haven Ave.

“I want to convey something about the area,” he said, “but also something about the people who lived in the area before us.” He noted the significance of the Ute tribe to Utah. “It’s going to be a Native American portrait, with a Native American prayer that talks about the rain and earth.”

The Hungarian artist, who goes by TakerOne, is experimenting with photorealism in his mural, which features the image of three bluejays. The mural can be seen at The Tree Broker, 155 W. Utopia Ave.

TakerOne said he always starts with a sketch, and “after that, it’s more or less a coloring book. … Here, I used the bricks of the wall to help me as reference points. I made a photo of the wall and then I overlaid what I wanted to paint on it.”

After working in information technology for 13 years, TakerOne shifted to public art, starting as a graffiti artist and switching to commissioned works. His building-sized murals — nature pieces and portraits, mostly — can be found in Brooklyn, Virginia, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, Israel and his native Hungary. The Mural Fest commission is his first time in Utah.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Public artist Takerone works on his mural for the South Salt Lake Mural Fest on May 8, 2022. It will be on display on the wall at The Tree Broker at 155 W. Utopia Ave.

TakerOne said it’s surreal that his career has evolved into being paid to travel around the world and do public art. He said he considers himself incredibly lucky.

Dyer said a goal of Mural Fest is to bring in artists, like Blanco and TakerOne, whose work Utahns might not otherwise see. It’s also created “momentum” for residents and businesses to engage with artists, Dyer said — with some South Salt Lakers paying for their own mural, because “nobody wants to be the only business that doesn’t have a mural.”

The real takeaway, he said, is how easily the murals bring people together to experience public art.

“It’s very accessible and inclusive because there are no financial barriers,” Dyer said. “That’s public art. It’s there for everyone to enjoy and consume as they want.”

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) TakerOne's mural at The Tree Broker at 155 W. Utopia Ave., featuring three bluejays.