Traditional signs of spring include tulips and Easter eggs. New signs of spring at The Gateway include a narwhal flying through space and a unicorn breaking free from a canvas.

Vestar, the company that owns The Gateway, has hired Utah artists to create fantastic art installations with a spring theme. The artwork will fill 10 empty storefronts throughout the outdoor mall for the next three months.

Artists also will be able to open shops in their spaces during monthly Gateway Art Strolls, organized in partnership with the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. The selected artists began creating their installations in early April, but the official launch of the new edition of the mall’s Art Shop Project is Friday.

Cait Lee, a graphic designer from Salt Lake City, learned about the project from her sister, Mika. With friend Jess Stevens, the sisters wanted to create a mystical and ethereal space, focusing on the idea of two worlds coming together.

They landed on “GalaxSea,” a playful display of sea creatures in space. The main focus of the installation is a giant 3D narwhal flying through space toward a black hole.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Cait Lee, her sister Mika Lee and their friends work with glow in the dark paint, iridescent objects, mirrors and black lights to create the scene of sea creatures flying through space at a vacant store in Gateway, April 12, 2019 as part of the Art Shop Project. The Art Shop Project at The Gateway was created to re-purpose and decorate vacant store windows with temporary art installations from local artists and students.

“We picked … something that people don’t really see that often,” Cait Lee said.

“Ideally, we want to catch people and make them take another look and figure out what is happening and take them to another dimension,” Mika Lee said. “People are rarely underwater or in outer space. We’re going to combine the two things and show them something that’s cool.”

Locations across Salt Lake City participate in the free monthly stroll, welcoming visitors from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Here are some highlights from this month’s stroll.
• The Gateway, 18 N. Rio Grande St., will feature 10 storefronts with installations built by Utah artists; some will include pop-up shops. The installations will remain in place until July.
• Urban Arts Gallery in The Gateway at 116 S Rio Grande St. will hold a reception for the artists of “Pale Blue Dot,” an exhibit of art celebrating the beauty of nature, as well as pieces made from found objects and recycled materials.
• Rio Gallery, 300 S. Rio Grande St., will hold a reception for the artists behind “Transcontinental: People, Place, Impact,” which features works that examine the legacy and impact of the Transcontinental Railroad.
• Modern West Fine Art will open “New West,” with work from 30 artists, as its first exhibit in its new location at 412 South 700 West.
• Mestizo Coffee House Gallery, 631 W. North Temple, will present “Work,” a project created by the students and families of Escalante Elementary in the Rose Park and Westpointe neighborhoods of Salt Lake City. Students photographed and recorded what the theme of work means to them.

Mika Lee said her sister has a “really unique take on art,” but is “kind of limited in what she does at work.”

But with Cait Lee’s experience “having gone to Burning Man and done different art rooms,” her sister said, “I thought that she’d be such a great addition to something that is being offered to Utah.”

The sisters plan to be among the artists who open a pop-up shop during the strolls.

“Not only will they have their window display, they’ll also be able to sell,” said Jacklyn Briggs, marketing director for Vestar. “Some of them are illustrators and other have sculpture pieces they can sell.”

Vestar purchased the mall in 2016 and began revitalizing the area, and incorporating art is a large part of its plan, Briggs said. Several previous versions of the Art Shop Project have been staged; with empty retail spaces in transition, “why not offer them up to local artists to create the window displays?” Briggs said.

Art murals can be seen around The Gateway, including a newly commissioned piece dedicated to Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell. The windows also join Dreamscapes, a 17-room interactive art exhibit that has extended its run until at least May 5 at 110 S. Rio Grande St. It’s next door to the Urban Arts Gallery, which also participates in the Gateway Art Stroll.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Artistis Jared Andrew Smith and Chuck Landvatter paint a mural of Utah Jazz Guard Donovan during the Donovan Mitchell Bridge at the Gateway in Downtown Salt Lake, Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

While the murals were created by artists from across the nation and world, the storefront windows and temporary art shops “give local artists some opportunities here too,” Briggs said.

Briggs said Vestar wanted the installations to be bright and playful to match The Gateway’s aesthetic of being an urban playground. The artists selected are an eclectic group, with some working in wood and others using glass to bounce light.

“It runs the gamut and they’ll all be different in their own way, but they definitely have the overall theme of spring,” Briggs said. “It’s a little outside of the box. It’s something special for people to appreciate.”

Anastasia Bolinder from Draper found out about the Art Shop Project through following Utah artists on Instagram. She wanted to do an installation based on the concept of breaking free. Her piece will have a large wire unicorn escaping a canvas.

“It will have fabric over the body and then will be painted with watercolor,” Bolinder said. “Behind it, we will have lights and we will also have 180-year-old paper that we will be putting together in sheets that are from an art book. It will have watercolor on that too, to add some bright, spring colors.”

Bolinder said she has always loved fantasy and was inspired by the chance to do something fun. “I thought, why not go as big as you could possibly go?” she said.

She also wanted to incorporate the idea of imagination, and create something that inspires people or makes them feel like a kid again.

“I feel that a lot of times growing up, you lose that sense of imagination,” Bolinder said. “But no matter what you’re doing, it’s always good to have imagination and to inspire creativity in other people.”

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.