Salt Lake Gallery Stroll helps make art accessible

Published: Saturday, April 12 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

Visitors to the Phillips Gallery look at the work of Heather Barron and Gerald Purdy during a gallery stroll in Salt Lake City in February 2010.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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.

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