Since it was purchased by Phoenix-based Vestar more than a year ago, The Gateway outdoor mall is gradually re-branding itself as a destination for art, entertainment, and culture. That’s not to say shopping has taken a backseat, but shoppers are in for some surprising encounters with art. And this is only the beginning of Vestar’s plans for the property.
On a recent walking tour, Vestar’s creative director, Bergendi Hatch, pointed out recent additions to the mall’s public “artscape.” Starting at the splashy fountain, the tower that overlooks the fountain and plaza is now encased in a screen that projects a moving landscape. The current projection is a compilation of stock video, but Hatch looks forward to using new works by local video artists in the future. “I can’t wait to hand this over to some creative minds to see what they come up with,” says Hatch.
Walking down the street between retail stores, visitors look up to see art underneath the sky bridges. Designed specifically for these locations by internationally known artists, the art is reminiscent of Pop or graffiti art, with bright colors and abstracted images. Directly under the bridge, one might see only shapes and color, but from a distance, the abstraction resolves into a recognizable image; in one instance a handshake representing the connections possible in a diverse community.
The most recent addition is a hand-painted mural by the art collective, Dourone, aka Fabio Lopez Gonzalo from Madrid. The mural, which covers most of the front of the Clark Planetarium wall at 100 South, depicts “two world faces,” in bright blue and green colors. The design of huge faces looking at each other from different sides of the globe speaks to the global community we live in.
Around the corner on 400 South, is another painted mural by the collective 2Alas covering the front of the Clark Planetarium facing the TRAX station. Once again, from the sidewalk underneath the mural, one can see only shapes that appear as a zebra-like pattern. But from the TRAX platform, one can see actress Loretta Young’s face emerge. 2Alas is composed of New York artist Andrew Antonaccio and Cuban-born Filio Galvez. Like Dourone; their work appears in public spaces all over the world.
According to Hatch, the planning for these murals began a year ago and included many conversations with local artists, the city’s public art coordinators, and many others. Vestar decided this initial series of public art installations offered an opportunity to connect Salt Lake City to the international art scene. There are many other opportunities coming up for local artists to engage.
Back to the walking tour. Some of the public art is of a scale that begs engagement with visitors. For example, on the corner next to Abercrombie and Fitch, a set of wings (designed by Hatch) offers an irresistible “selfie” opportunity. And next to the entrance to the parking garage, a neon light claiming, “Salt Lake City is for lovers” invites more selfies.
The art isn’t limited to the visual. Throughout the property are picnic tables with swings for seats, puffy seats that glow in the dark, and other bistro-style tables and chairs on evergreen “turf” that invite visitors to sit and linger. This is just part of what makes The Gateway different from your typical mall where shoppers rush from store to store and get out as quickly as possible. “We’re in the midst of redefining that mall concept because there’s so much more that we can do with public spaces,” says Hatch. “We have stores and we have restaurants and more will come. That’s going to be an important part of it. We don’t want to be a mall; we want to be part of this entertainment district downtown. We have Vivint [arena] next door,” she notes. The Clark Planetarium and the Discovery children’s museum is right there on the property, too. The Gateway hopes to encourage people to come together for an experience, not just for shopping.
Another part of the art and culture branding of The Gateway is the ongoing series of special events. In September, they hosted Italian and Mexican heritage events. Next up is “Illuminate Salt Lake” a light art and technology festival coordinated by the Utah Arts Alliance and the mall-based Urban Arts Gallery for the weekend of Nov. 10-11. According to promotional materials, the festival will “bring our rapidly growing local technology sector together with local artists to collaborate on work that gives our community a shared sense of place.” The mall will literally light up with projections and interactive displays. The free event also will take place in locations around downtown and at the Eccles Theater Plaza.
The holiday season will again offer the “Art Shop Project,” in which local artists submit proposals to design displays for storefronts. Hatch is also open to proposals by artists and arts organizations to exhibit in The Gateway throughout the year. They have hosted student exhibits and other short-term displays.
“Come and interpret our space” is Hatch’s invitation to the community.
“Illuminate Salt Lake,” light art and technology festival, The Gateway; around downtown Salt Lake City; Eccles Theater Plaza, Nov. 10-11, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Free. https://www.facebook.com/events/119162052112322/
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Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.