It’s important to look over the list and pick a couple that catch your imagination somehow. For the regular people who make the gallery stroll a regular practice, pick a venue or two that you haven’t been to before, just to broaden your experience. —Karen Horne
Editor's note: This is the third story in a series highlighting arts organizations around Utah.
From watercolors to ceramics, from professionals to hobbyists and from contemporary Utah to 17th-century European artists, the world of visual arts has variety and depth that could warrant decades of study.
But the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll offers it all in one night, and a person doesn’t even need to be an art expert to enjoy it.
“It’s a very unobtrusive way to introduce yourself to art,” said Laura Durham, marketing and public value director for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. “You don’t have to take a class. You don’t have to go to a big fancy opening — you can just walk in.”
The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is a monthly event where galleries throughout the city open their doors and invite the community in to “be a part of art,” as the organization’s tagline states. Taking place on the third Friday of each month with the exception of December, when the free event is on the first Friday, the stroll provides accessibility to visual arts by educating patrons, breaking down barriers and providing increased levels of interaction with the art.
“It's a welcoming, sociable event for everyone from serious collectors checking out an artist's latest work to young people who want an idea for a fun date,” said Karen Horne, artist and owner of gallery stroll participant Horne Fine Art.
Education: Breaking down barriers
“Our mission is education,” said Kristina Robb, director of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll.
But getting people into the galleries to actually be educated is the key, and that isn’t always easy.
“(My) family has been involved in art for generations, so I’m very at ease with art, but not everyone is,” Horne said. “Galleries can be very intimidating.”
Durham observed that many people imagine a stereotype about art galleries that the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll seeks to dismantle.
“I think there’s stigma attached to it where you really have to understand it, but you don’t,” she said.
She further emphasized that the experience of viewing art should be about trying to appreciate it, regardless of whether one likes the art itself.
The gallery stroll works to overcome this stigma and help patrons become comfortable with art. One of the main features of the gallery stroll is the frequent presence of the artists at the receptions, which gives patrons the opportunity to learn and understand straight from the source.
“If you are interested in learning more, it’s a great way to meet the artist and gain insight into their work,” said Meri DeCaria, who has been the curator at Phillips Gallery for 23 years.
Other “educational devices,” as Horne calls them, include live demonstrations in which artists paint during the stroll, giving guests the opportunity to actually see the palette, how the artist lays the paint down, what paint was used and more. “It’s a little window into the art process,” she said.
Beyond the education that comes from asking the artists questions, patrons can use the opportunity to become more educated about their own tastes by asking themselves questions.
“Just expose yourself to it and ask yourself what you like and what you don’t like,” DeCaria said. “Maybe if you don’t like something, sort of question why, and see, as you continue to look, how your tastes evolve."
A look at the past
The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is celebrating its 30th year as a part of Utah’s artistic tapestry, but the prominence of visual arts in Utah’s culture was established long before the stroll’s 1983 beginnings.
According to Horne Fine Art’s website, the Utah Arts Institute, the forerunner to today’s Utah Division of Arts and Museums, was created as the nation’s first state-sponsored art organization in 1899 thanks to legislation by art enthusiast Alice Merrill Horne, great-grandmother of Karen Horne.
Eighty-four years after this catalyst to Utah’s visual arts scene, the climate was set to further foster the growth of visual arts. In 1983, a group of for-profit retail galleries joined forces to participate in a “gallery crawl.”
“Ten years later, nonprofit galleries including the Salt Lake Art Center (today’s Utah Museum of Contemporary Art), Art Access, Finch Lane Gallery and the Utah Art’s Council’s Glendinning Gallery (now the Alice Gallery) joined the mix,” according to the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll’s gallery guide. “With nonprofits involved, Gallery Stroll took off as a community-outreach program with a new focus toward education.”
The gallery stroll is now a non-profit agency — an entity separate from the galleries themselves that is dedicated to “promot(ing) and provid(ing) access to the expression, appreciation and understanding of the visual arts in Salt Lake City,” according to the organization's mission statement.
Building on the historical bedrock of the nation’s first art agency and the stroll’s 30 years of success, Salt Lake City now receives accolades for its bustling art community.
“We have a tremendous amount of talent per capita in Salt Lake, which is what puts us on these lists,” Robb said.
And that talent makes it so many of the galleries in Salt Lake City are able to show art for Utahns, by Utahns.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of talent in this area," DeCaria said. "The artwork shown in our galleries is born of this place. It is the art of our neighbors, friends and associates."
Tips for strolling
With over 40 possible venues participating on any given third Friday, the gallery stroll might seem more like an overwhelming art marathon.
Horne pointed out that with the stroll taking place for only three hours on one Friday a month, it would be impossible for a patron to go to every venue. She recommends looking online at the list of gallery offerings beforehand to select a smaller group of galleries to visit.
“It’s important to look over the list and pick a couple that catch your imagination somehow,” she said. “For the regular people who make the gallery stroll a regular practice, pick a venue or two that you haven’t been to before, just to broaden your experience.”
DeCaria recommends that those who are new to the gallery stroll simply be honest and allow those with more experience to guide and teach.
“If you’re new to the art scene, walk in and say, ‘Tell me what I should do,’ and anyone would love to take that person under their wing and show them,” she said.
Although the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll may not be specifically targeted toward families, there are many options for families interested in making the event a weekend outing.
“It is family-friendly in that all of the exhibitions and venues are accessible to families, meaning that kids are welcome,” Robb said. “We expect that parents follow the same guidelines as they would for a day out at the art museum.”
Durham recommends that parents prepare themselves for the stroll first so they can communicate understanding to their children. She also suggests engaging children by giving them something to look for while at the exhibits, such as counting the number of animals or looking for a specific color in the paintings.
Robb also invites parents who are unsure how to best make the stroll a family event to call the gallery stroll offices for recommendations.
Visual art frequently surrounds people.
“We see so many images in modern life, just thousands of images, with Facebook and advertising, but we are kind of getting out of the habit of actually communing with creations in person,” Horne said.
The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll, however, takes viewing to a whole new level by creating interaction.
“It gets people off their chair, and they get to see the art in person,” Horne explained. “It completes the circle because I could create a piece or love another artist’s piece, but to see someone from the public respond is very gratifying.”
Exposing individual patrons to a mixture of things they do and don’t like also creates something Robb considers particularly valuable: conversation.
“Even the people who didn’t really enjoy it, who thought the work was stupid — they thought abstract art was the most ridiculous thing that their cat could’ve done or whatever — that gets them excited, they have a great evening and they’re always so appreciative that they found this,” Robb said.
And with a nod to her great-grandmother, Horne reminds people that making art a part of life is the essence of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll.
“Alice Merrill Horne talked about the importance of integrating art into life: ‘If you really want to learn what art is, live with it. Make it a part of your home and your experience,’ ” she said. “The stroll helps make it part of the community's experience.”
If you go
What: Salt Lake Gallery Stroll
When: April 18, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Galleries throughout Salt Lake City
How much: Free
In addition to the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll are other events throughout the state that provide their communities with similar free opportunities. Here is a list by location of other Utah gallery strolls, located downtown in their respective cities:
What: Cache Valley Center for the Arts Gallery Walk
When: Second Friday of every other month, 6-9 p.m.
What: Moab Art Walk
When: Second Saturday in April-June and September-October, 6-9 p.m.
What: First Friday Art Stroll
When: First Friday of each month, 6-9 p.m.
What: Park City Gallery Association Gallery Stroll
When: Last Friday of each month, 6-9 p.m.
What: Provo Art Stroll
When: First Friday of each month, 6-9 p.m.
What: Art on Main Gallery Stroll
When: A few times a year; next is June 13, 6-9 p.m.
What: Sugar House Art Walk
When: Second Friday of each month, 6-9 p.m.
Has a gallery stroll been left off this list? Please email its information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters