Utah Arts Festival readies for its return with more hands-on activities

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 21 2014 8:30 p.m. MDT

Festivalgoers walk among the booths behind the Salt Lake City Public Library. The Utah Arts Festival will span a few blocks of downtown Salt Lake at Library Square and Washington Square, 200 E. 400 South.

Nicole Morgenthau, Provided by Utah Arts Festival

The Utah Arts Festival is coming back to Salt Lake City for its 38th year, and this time it's giving guests more opportunities to play with art rather than just see it.

The festival, which will run June 26-29, will be packed with over 65 workshops and other hands-on activities for people of all ages.

“A lot of people say, ‘What is new about the festival?’” said Teri Mumm, marketing manager for the festival. “All the ways, with workshops, that people can actually do art and interact with art, not just go and see — it’s been happening, but it’s big this year.”

The festival will feature traditional mediums of art, such as visual arts and literature; performing arts, such as film, music and dance; and more modern trends, such as culinary and urban arts.

Children 12 and under are admitted free and have an entire section of the festival, the Art Yard, devoted to them.

In addition to several make-and-take projects, one highlight of the Art Yard is a life-size installment of sculptures that kids can walk among and paint as they please. This year's theme is "Art on the Range," and the installment will include life-size chickens, garden vegetables, a cow and a tractor.

Maggie Willis, artist and coordinator of the Art Yard, designs and builds the sculptures and then covers them with glue and fabric to make a paintable surface.

She picks a different theme each year, she said, and tries to make the sculptures out of "as much upcycled material as possible," including old boxes and plastic water bottles.

"I love being able to build these giant installation pieces ... and seeing how they transform over the course of the festival," she said. "(I love) how excited these little kids get to paint something, leave it there and then come back and see it changing."

Another feature of the kids’ section is the musical petting zoo put on by Summerhays Music Center. The center brings many kinds of instruments, from violins to French horns, for kids to pick up and try out.

Utah Arts Festival director Lisa Sewell said this is one of her favorite parts of the festival.

“I think it’s great to give kids a chance to try these things,” she said. “And again, it’s so unintimidating. You just get to pick something up and try it and see what happens.”

The festival will also offer workshops for adults to improve their artistic skills or consider a new hobby.

Sewell said this has been one of her focuses during her eight years as festival director. She said because she is not an artist herself, she wants to give adults the same opportunity that the kids have to try something new.

“I’m so intimidated, there’s no way I would go take a class,” Sewell said. “But if it’s in more of a casual atmosphere, where it’s less intimidating but you’re still getting to interact with a professional artist, to me it’s like ‘OK, I could do that.’”

She said the workshops range from watercolor painting to poetry writing. She added that they have a new artist from Texas this year, Beverly Mangham, who is putting on a workshop for assemblage art. This is a mixed media form of art that uses mostly reclaimed and recycled materials.

"The materials are in the universe to be recycled, to be invented by artists," Mangham said. "I hope [participants] will be able to reinvent the ordinary and to look at things in a multitude of ways."

The festival will also feature an Urban Arts section directed toward teenagers and young adults who enjoy things such as duct tape art and disc jockeys.

A booth from Enjigo, a non-profit foundation that operates a "makerspace" in Salt Lake City, will feature art and technology.

"Enjigo is a collective of 'makers,'" said Jesse Gomez, the organization's president. "It's sort of a merger of industrial equipment and DIY attitudes. We get together and we don't just make art; we make machines and robots. We just like to make."

Gomez said he likes to think of art as an experience and not just a product. Enjigo will offer workshops at the festival and have its creations available for guests to play with.

One popular piece is the "makey-makey kit," which allows guests to use electrical wires and turn a normal household item into something completely different.

"You can have all sorts of interactive experiences that you never thought you could have," Gomez said. "Like touching a banana and having it make certain noises. It's weird."

Another new addition this year is the Culinary Arts section.

"I decided that I was tired of just selling food, because that's not very artistic," said Bob Raysor, a culinary artist and the director of the new section. "So we decided to make a whole program that is more artistic."

He said the program will highlight local "foodies" and give culinary students a chance to prepare and cater an entire menu for the festival.

"The culinary field in Salt Lake is really starting to increase," he said. "We get less chains and more individuality in the restaurants, and we are trying to incorporate that into the festival. We always try to involve the community, and we saw this as a great opportunity."

Sewell said one unique thing about the festival is that every section has enough to offer that it could potentially stand alone.

“If we took everything else aside and there was just the film, that in and of itself would be a big enough draw,” she said.

The festival will feature dozens of international short films, with the "Fear No Film" series, and will host 75 local bands and multiple headliners from various genres of music.

The stage venues will also feature street theater performers, from fire dances to hip hop competitions.

Returning to the festival for the first time since 2003 is “Australia’s Strange Fruit,” a performing group that Sewell said is “very mesmerizing.”

The performers stand on 5-meter poles and dance and swing out over the crowd, adding to the interactive element and allowing guests to really be inside the performance.

Mumm and Sewell agreed that one of the challenges with the festival is helping visitors organize their schedules to make sure they see what they want to see among the offerings.

But there’s an app for that.

“We have an app, which makes it really easy,” Sewell said. “You can go down and favorite what you want to see, and then you can set it up so you know where to go. So that’s kind of fun."

Tickets can be purchased at uaf.org before the festival or at the door.

If you go ...

What: Utah Arts Festival

When: June 26-29

Where: Library Square and Washington Square, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City (See map here)

Cost: $10 for adults Thursday, $12 for adults Friday-Sunday, $6 for seniors, free for children 12 and under, package tickets available

Website: uaf.org

Phone: 801-322-2428

Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Contact her at epalmer@deseretnews.com or follow her on Twitter at erica_palmer.

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