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Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Andrea Garavito, left, and Judith Flores work on homework in the Mestizo Coffeehouse.

Not too long ago, if you had asked Ruby Chacon her impression of Salt Lake City's west side, she probably would have responded with the same impression of poverty and crime that many east-siders do.

"I bought into the stigma of the west side," said Chacon, a Salt Lake artist who up until a few years ago was a lifelong east-sider.

Her move to the city's west side was a reluctant one that happened when her family outgrew their Avenues apartment and found living cheaper on the west side.

But it was on the west side that Chacon discovered a sense of community and belonging.

"I feel like I found a second family," Chacon says. "I'm so lucky I moved out here. ... I've never felt a sense of community like I felt here."

That's part of the reason why Chacon and her husband, Terry Hurst, chose to open Mestizo Coffeehouse and Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts, a cafe and art gallery just west of I-15 on North Temple.

Their long-term goal is to create an art institute and museum, with a board "in charge of its own voice," Hurst said. The space also serves as a gathering place for community groups. Chacon and Hurst want to match exhibits of local artists with well-known national and regional artists.

"We want to talk with the community," says Hurst. "Not about the community. ... We wanted them to walk in and say, 'We have a really beautiful history."'

The couple sees the west side as long neglected by city planners and taxpayers who have seen it as an area blighted with poverty and crime.

Hurst smiles proudly as he describes the sense of community here. "When this place was covered with dust, people volunteered," he says. "Young people showed up to clean the place."

The community spirit bucks the perception of gangs and crime that has left a development gap in the Glendale and Rose Park neighborhoods, says Maria Garciaz, executive director of NeighborWorks Salt Lake.

The coffee shop, she says, is one step toward filling a needed gap. NeighborWorks is supporting the concept by subsidizing its first year of rent.

"The west side has great assets. You don't always get to hear about those assets," she said. "I think what (Mestizo) will do is bring a voice and also bring recognition to the west side."

Hurst says he hopes the new gallery will live up to its expectations by bringing more than a place for coffee and camaraderie to the west side.

"We want to show art in a different way and inspire the people in these neighborhoods," he says. "We want to change the conversation."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com