Salt Lake City launches new effort to promote the arts and drive visitors downtown

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski speaks at the grand reopening celebration for Fairmont Park Pond on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. At the brand launch of Salt Lake City's "cultural core" initiative, Biskupski said the 40-block neighborhood comprising the area represents "the premiere of arts, entertainment and culture" in Utah.

Downtown Salt Lake City Presents launched a new program Wednesday that will serve as a way to market the various artists, performance groups, filmmakers and photographers within a 40-block neighborhood known as THE BLOCKS.

THE BLOCKS is a new way to brand what has been called the cultural core, a multiyear effort spearheaded by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County to establish Utah’s capital city as a premier urban cultural district in the Intermountain West.

“We have so many amazing entities here,” said Kristian Anderson, the executive director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts (UMOCA). “We collaborate … but I think an entity that can say ‘Hey, look at these collaborations, look at what everyone else [is doing]’ is that missing piece to make downtown Salt Lake a real cultural destination.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said at the news conference that the area east of 600 West to 400 East and south of North Temple to 400 South is “the premier of arts, entertainment and culture” in Utah and offers a variety of experiences to the state’s increasingly diverse population.

“With its wide variety of venues, audiences and nonstop creative energy, THE BLOCKS offers a quality and consistent experience you cannot get anywhere else in Utah,” she said. “This is a game-changer for downtown Salt Lake.”

Anderson said he’s excited there’s a program that’s “thinking about the bigger picture” for the arts in Salt Lake, and he hopes it boost visitation downtown, along with “cultural tourists.”

The partnership between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City was announced in 2010 and Downtown Salt Lake City Presents, an offshoot of the Downtown Alliance, has managed the effort. A big part of this is the special taxing district that directs a portion of the money raised over the next 20 years in this area back into the arts.

The tax boundaries are different from the cultural core boundaries. The boundaries for money raised don’t include the Gateway mall, and they comprise the area between 200 West and 200 East. The tax boundaries begin at South Temple and run to 400 South, while the cultural core includes North Temple.

In an increasingly polarized political climate, Jason Mathis, the executive director of Downtown Alliance, said he hopes an increased focus on art will transform the Salt Lake community.

“Think about some of the challenging things that we face in our world today: About political discourse, about people not treating each other very well, about toddlers being put in cages,” he said at the news conference. “In a lot of ways, art and beauty is an antidote to that. It inspires us to be better, inspires us to think about other humans in different ways and inspires us to have greater connectivity with the human race.”