Music to dance to, or just tap one’s toes. Literary arts to spark the imagination. Art objects to be hung on a wall, worn on one’s body or placed on a table. Films to watch, and enjoy the air conditioning. Food to feast on. Kids’ activities to introduce art to a new generation.
The Utah Arts Festival — which promises all that and more — is back, at full strength after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, for four days of celebrating the best from Utah artists and beyond. The festival runs Thursday through Sunday, June 23 to 26, in Library Square and Washington Square, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
The festival, marking its 46th year, boasts more than 200 performances on six stages — including nine national headliners whose styles range from ‘80s rock to funk, rap, soul and folk.
The artists marketplace features some 170 artists and artisans, selling lithographs, paintings, sculpture, wearable art, jewelry and more. The Fear No Film Festival, in the City Library’s auditorium, will screen 70 short films from Utah and 23 countries around the world. Poets and authors will read from their works from the Literary Stage.
What follows is a taste of what the Utah Arts Festival aims to offer.
Expanding the diversity of artists
For the artists associated with the nonprofit cooperative Artes de Mexico en Utah, art is a way to stand out in a culture where they are often told to assimilate, said Fanny Guadalupe Blauer, the group’s executive director.
“Most of my artists are immigrants, and they come here with the idea of working,” she said. “We all go through this process of cultural assimilation where we tend to forget, or, we are perhaps forced to forget who we are, to fit in. Many of these people, as they go through this process of finding themselves, they utilize art.”
Guadalupe Blauer called her group’s artists “cultural ambassadors” because “through their art they are able to express part of their identity, their roots, their feelings and their surroundings of who they are in a foreign country.”
The cooperative has been part of the Utah Arts Festival for four years, on the spoken-word and poetry performance stage — making them the only Spanish-language poetry program in Utah. Last year, Aimee Dunsmore, the festival’s executive director approached Guadalupe Blauer about getting the cooperative’s Latino artists a wider platform.
Dunsmore said she wanted to expand on the BIPOC literary program, which launched in 2021 with the goal of “representing underrepresented voices in art.” The program worked, so much so that the festival wanted to expand it to more programs and art forms, Dunsmore said.
This year, she said, that upscaled effort is called the Emerging Artists Program.
“The goal was to not only expand who we were serving for that program,” Dunsmore said, “but also make sure that it’s got visual artists and other performing artists and try to touch on every program eventually.”
The effort, Dunsmore said, also was inspired by feedback the festival has received over the last few years from artists, particularly amateurs, who said it’s often “scary” or “overwhelming” to apply for events like the Utah Arts Festival.
The Emerging Artists Program this year will support more than 25 people and groups — representing visual artists, musicians, dancers and writers, Dunsmore said, adding that she hopes the program helps artists feel better prepared to apply for and participate in the festival.
Guadalupe Blauer said the program, so far, has been “very positive” in terms of accessibility, particularly when it comes to the cost of taking part. “It’s not cheap to participate in festivals,” she said. “Many of our people don’t have the means to apply and pay.”
Another reason Latino artists may be reluctant to enter, she said, is that the application forms are usually in English — and Guadalupe Blauer said she often helps translate them.
“I think when we look at it from the lens of a gallery or museum, art can be very exclusive,” she said. “Art belongs to everyone.”
The Utah Arts Festival gets that, Guadalupe Blauer said, and reflects the diversity of perspectives and perceptions that art can provide. She said the Emerging Artists Program has created “momentum” toward expanding that diversity even further — but it’s crucial to let the program continue.
Dunsmore said she expects to continue the program, and add layers to it — such as providing more resources for artist networking.
“There are a lot of things people have come to know and expect from the Utah Arts Festival,” Dunsmore said, “but I hope people will see that we’re growing and evolving a little bit.”
(Guadalupe Blauer also has been named one of the recipients of this year’s Mayor’s Artist Awards, which will be presented Friday, June 24, at 7 p.m., on the Festival Stage. The other recipients are: Artist and educator Jorge Rojas, the mural-making team Roots Art Kollective, the accessibility project Breaking Barriers, and artist and retired professor Sandy Brunvand.)
Pineapple drinks and new food vendors
When the Utah Arts Festival held its abbreviated event in 2021 — only three days last August — few people expected that one of the event’s biggest hits would be smoothies sipped from hollowed-out pineapples.
“I wasn’t sure how they would do, especially since they were putting their drinks in a real pineapple,” said Bob Raysor, who has coordinated the festival’s culinary arts for the last 20 years. “I didn’t think they could keep up with the volume. But I was amazed at how many pineapple drinks they sold.”
The smoothie stand, The Rolling Pineapple, is back for this year’s festival. It’s one of 18 food vendors, a mix of veteran purveyors and new entries.
Raysor said it’s a delicate balancing act to program the food side of the festival.
“It’s about the arts and music,” he said. “[The food] just kind of rounds out the experience.”
One rule of thumb: Never duplicate a type of food. “If we have one person selling hamburgers, no one else will serve hamburgers,” Raysor said. “I don’t want to put booths out there just to make a profit. I want a nice experience for people who come and spend a day there.”
This year’s new vendors are:
The Cluck Truck • Fried chicken, chicken wraps, tacos, fries
Cowboy Corndogs • Serving both regular and spicy corndogs.
Dali Crepes • European-style sweet and savory crepes.
Docar Roasted Corn • Roasted corn on the cob, served with such condiments as mayo, butter and cheese.
Les BBQ Sandwiches • Texas-style barbecue.
Dionysos Greek Foods, Raysor said, isn’t new, but it’s based in Colorado, and might be a new experience for Utahns who regularly visit local food trucks.
Some food booths are equipped with Square credit card readers, but some are not, Raysor said, so having cash on hand will be helpful. (ATMs are available throughout the festival grounds.) The festival will have a huge covered area for dining, which will be shaded and cooled with fans — an important consideration for those attending on a hot afternoon.
For those who imbibe, there is beer and wine available throughout the festival, including Uinta Brewing’s beer tent east of the Garden Stage, which is open every day from noon to 10 p.m. Those wanting to buy alcohol must carry a valid I.D., proving they are 21 or older, and wristbands will be required for anyone buying or carrying drinks at the festival.
“We’re looking forward to this year, because it was canceled one year, and then last year it was in August for only two or three days,” Raysor said. “We’re back to our normal four days, and we’re all very happy.”
Music: Headliners and more
Many people who attend the Utah Arts Festival, once they’re done looking at the visual art, want to hear the music.
Nearly every musical genre one can imagine — jazz, funk, soul, pop, folk, rock, Americana, classical, bluegrass, hip-hop, blues, country, electronic, world music — is represented among the 200 performances over the festival’s four days.
Among the highlights are the nine national headliners slated to perform. They are:
Lyrics Born (June 23, 9:30 p.m., Amphitheater Stage) • A Japanese-American rapper, who is also part of the Latyrx duo, with Lateef the Truthspeaker.
Kombilesa Mi (June 23, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage) • An Afro-Colombian group that combines traditional music with rap, in Palenquero (a Spanish-based creole language) and Spanish.
The Fixx (June 24, 9:30 p.m., Amphitheater Stage) • British-based rock band known for its ‘80s hits “One Thing Leads to Another” and “Saved By Zero.” (Utah band Spirit Machines, whose mash-up of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Tool’s “Sober” went viral in 2020, will serve as an opening act of sorts, performing at 8:15 p.m.)
Theo Croker • (June 24, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage) • A Grammy-nominated jack-of-all-trades jazz trumpeter, composer, vocalist and producer.
Judith Hill (June 25, 9:30 p.m., Amphitheater Stage) • This pop-soul singer-songwriter started out as a backup singer, was profiled in the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” and was chosen to sing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Michael Jackson for the star’s never-performed “This Is It” concerts in 2009.
Esther Rose (June 25, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage) • Louisiana-based country music artist.
Toubab Krewe • (June 26, 5:45 p.m., Amphitheater Stage) • A five-member alternative-indie instrumental band that fuses music from Mali and the southern United States.
Leyla McCalla (June 26, 7:45 p.m., Festival Stage) • An American classic and folk musician, who was a cellist with the Grammy-winning band Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Diggin’ Dirt (June 26, 7:45 p.m., Amphitheater Stage) • An eight-piece Northern California soul and funk band.
Tickets and information
Tickets • Adults: $13 online (plus fees), $15 at the gate; seniors (65 and older) and military, $8 (plus fees when bought online; valid ID required upon entry); children 12 and under are free; a 4-day pass is available for $45. Tickets available at the gate, or online at uaf.org/tix.
Entrances • The main entrance is by the City Library, in Library Square. Other entrances: 500 South, midway between State Street and 200 East; on 400 South, just west of 200 East; and at the corner of 500 South and 300 East.
Transportation • Because parking is limited, the festival recommends taking the Trax red line to the Library Square station; your festival ticket will allow you free fare on UTA trains (including FrontRunner) and buses during the four days of the festival. If you ride your bike to the festival, there’s a bike valet available on 400 South, north of City Hall.
For more information • Go to ufa.org.