Public Issues | Visual Arts

Political Landscapes

by Lisa Scopes Oliver

As the seasons start their metamorphosis once again and shades of fall begin coloring the hillsides, an artist’s thoughts turn to contemplate many things: capturing the landscape on canvas, finding alternate venues to display their works, and, possibly most important this fall, deciding which Salt Lake City mayoral candidate will best support the arts.

Artists and city government alike are both in agreement with the idea of increasing an arts presence in the city. However, the specific implementation of this task tends to be cumbersome, extremely time-consuming and a difficult challenge at best. We have spoken with three mayoral candidates to discover how they plan to help the arts in Salt Lake City.

Incumbent mayor Rocky Anderson has been at the forefront of legislation to push through relaxed regulations regarding artists in public spaces. His “street artists ordinance” has allowed more artists to feel comfortable showing and selling in venues such as city parks and certain downtown areas.

Recently, the mayor worked with arts community volunteers to create a new gathering spot called “MAINLY ART” (see article page 5 ). This venue was a hard-won victory, both for the tireless artists who diligently gave of their time and resources, and for the Mayor himself, whose vision of an open, progressive city are oftentimes rejected by the city council and misconstrued by some of the general public.

“Art in every form should be pervasive in our community,” Anderson explained as he recalled some of his pet arts projects he has championed during his term as mayor. The Youth Mural Program, Art in the Park, the SLC International Jazz Festival, and a permanent home at Library Square for the Utah Arts Festival are some of the accomplishments he is most proud of.

Anderson feels the city needs to push for more public art on its streets and in its parks. “When I first took office, there was no provision at all for allowing artists of any sort to perform or display in public parks and sidewalks – a really bad deal for both the local arts community and those of us who live and work here.”

Occasionally, one can glimpse the Mayor as he strolls among the artists’ booths at “Mainly Art,” sometimes engaging in a political discussion over free speech and civil rights, showing his support by purchasing an item or offering wall space in his campaign headquarters to hang artist’s work.

“I will do everything I can, both personally, and with the support of our administration, to see that local artists have all reasonable opportunities to display and sell their art and at the same time to encourage everyone to support those arts,” the mayor enthused.

He has recently done his part by promoting Mainly Art on major radio channels during morning drive-time spots.

However, as Anderson has realized, it is impossible to please all the people all of the time. His opponent, Frank Pignanelli cites Anderson’s inability to see eye to eye with city council members as the main reason more has not been accomplished in furthering the arts in Salt Lake City.

“I agree with many of the things the mayor wants to do,” Pignanelli explains. “I just don’t think he can get them done because of his management style and relationships with the City Council.”

Pignanelli lists his ten year tenure in the legislature as significant in his ability to interface with city government and his “moderate” stance on certain issues as “just a different” yet effective “style.” He believes that “the way for our city to succeed is to have a strong artistic element.”

Some of Pignanelli’s suggestions to further the arts if he becomes elected include working with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to create an art museum of currently archived artwork to be housed in the Crossroads Mall – “They have fabulous local artwork that is just warehoused….it would be a huge draw.” He would also like to work with the State of Utah to extricate their “underutilized” warehoused artwork as well.

He would like to see the city “provide incentives” such as “subsidized rents” for artists to locate “for a year or two” along both Main and State streets which would help “breed support” for “more private donations for artists in the city” as well.

Pignanelli concedes the city has “limited resources, but it can use its offices to partner with the arts community to reach out.”

This is something that candidate Molonai Hola firmly believes in as well. “I would definitely be a great friend (to the community) and a very accessible mayor.”
“This state is very conservative,” Hola says “but I’m very open” to art of all kinds. “It’s so liberating!”

Hola would “absolutely” promote grassroots showings of art “to bring our city together.” Through “focusing more on your underserved artists and pulling the West Side over,” Hola would advance an agenda of inclusiveness through art.

“It takes a champion to use his resources to push those kinds of things through – I know Rocky is a big supporter. I would be as well.” He adds: “Art can be the fabric that can bring more of the city together.”

Hola cites his differences between the other candidates thusly: “I’m a new player in the game – I think I can be more effective [as mayor] because I’m not threatening. It’s easy for me to approach the city legislature and council . . . I’m a successful businessman – a deal-saver and a win-win guy rather than pushing a political agenda. I have no ties to special interests.”

He would like to become more familiar with the role he’d play regarding long term goals for the arts community – “Once I understand the role, I’ll be able to champion it. I’ll be more accessible to the little people, the underprivileged, perhaps those who don’t have enough resources.”

Hola agrees art is essential for promoting culture, individual self-esteem, and bringing people into the main stream – definite values that various forms of art are just beginning to accomplish and are now taking root within our community.

As the seeds of grassroots art gatherings spring up in a number of places throughout our city, artists and art lovers must ask themselves how best to cast their votes for mayor this fall. It would also do well for each candidate to contemplate just how they would go about tending and nurturing these creative seedlings to further the spread of artistic venues within our society and not neglectfully allow these issues to die on the vine or whither away after the election like autumn’s dead leaves.

Categories: Public Issues | Visual Arts

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