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Mural Fest Merges Community, Creativity in South Salt Lake

Billy Hensler at work on his mural on the east side of Mr. Muffler, at the corner of State Street and West Temple.

Community arts organizers and developers, DJs, folk bands, food trucks, artists and crafters, community members, and even visitors from as far as Florida gathered on Saturday evening to celebrate the first Mural Fest held in South Salt Lake. Organized at and around the Art Factory May 12th through May 19th, Mural Fest, the creation and celebration of new building-size painting projects, is the first of its kind in Salt Lake County. The festival was produced by the nonprofits South Salt Lake City Arts Council and Utah Arts Alliance and was funded by Union Pacific and Rocky Mountain Power foundations, among other sponsors.

“All the while I didn’t know there was anything like a mural fest, but I just wanted to get out and know other artists,” says Billy Hensler, one of the 10 mural artists showcased at the event. “I have a website where people all over the country find me and I’ll go and do their [mural] job. But I think Salt Lake City doesn’t know me.” Hensler was painting the finishing strokes on his 15-foot-tall wolf Saturday evening as groups gathered at his mural with compliments, questions, and cameras. His wolf is perhaps the most visible mural to commuters and passersby—it is located on the east side of the Mr. Muffler building, on the busy corner of 2100 South and West Temple. The majority of the murals line West Temple Street, falling between 2100 South and ending at the Salt Lake City Bike Collective Building.

Lesly Allen, South Salt Lake Arts Council director, says that businesses were interested in having the murals from the very beginning of the production of Mural Fest. Allen worked closely with Derek Dyer, executive director of Utah Arts Alliance, to develop, produce, and promote the event. “Derek has always had this dream to do a mural fest and we decided that South Salt Lake is the perfect place to do it because we have so many big warehouses and blank walls,” says Allen.

 Mural Fest also lined up well with the city’s downtown five-year master plan for redevelopment. After researching and analyzing creative industry zones for two years, Dyer and Allen learned some key strategies to apply to South Salt Lake.  “One of the strategies is a term called ‘creative place-making’ where you use things like public art murals to engage the community and revitalize your city,” says Allen.

Roger Whiting at work on the mural on the back side of Mr. Muffler.

Roger Whiting, another muralist who worked on the Mr. Muffler building, engaged 65 students in South Salt Lake community after-school programs to design and paint a mural. It was a feat that was empowering for both Whiting and the students he worked with. Through designing and creating the mural with Whiting, the students in the programs had the means to narrate and express their own experiences and ideas.

“The city wanted me to do something for the 80-year anniversary of the city. So with one of the programs, we talked about the history of the city. You can see this ribbon that represents a timeline of the city—at the end of the ribbon, the robot kills us all, except this one survivor lady that hopped in at the last second. The other after-school group talked about celebrations, so we have the flower, the birthday cake, and some fireworks at the very end. One kid painted a character from her YouTube channel. She was just over-the-moon to see it seemingly a million feet tall on the wall,” says Whiting.

Visitors to Mural Fest admire Jann Haworth’s mural at 2335 S. West Temple.

Allen thinks that the arts community in Salt Lake County is very strong, but that events like Mural Fest will bring some recognition and celebration to underappreciated communities, artists, and art forms. Mural Fest is far from over. Allen and Dyer have plans to hold the festival in South Salt Lake for 10 years. Their goal is to have 10 murals a year so that in a decade there will be 100 public murals available to the community.

“Murals are a very inexpensive way to add a lot of color and vibrancy to your city. They’re out on the street for anybody to see. They’re accessible to anyone. The best part is that they bring out culture, too. Every mural sort of has its story behind it. The murals represent the culture of the community. What they do is give people a different perspective of art,” says Allen.

South Salt Lake has a long tradition of mural art and other publicly viewable art. To see more of what’s in the neighborhood, check out this post: http://artistsofutah.org/15Bytes/index.php/art-in-south-salt-lake/

Scout Invie is studying English and art at Westminster College. She is also a writer and layout editor for Honorable Mention, Westminster Honors College’s biannual newsletter.

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