The circus is coming to town. Maybe you, too, remember when the Ringling Brothers train rolled into town loaded with animals, sets and human performers. The excitement and anticipation of clowns, acrobats, sword swallowers, elephants, horses and tigers, oh, my!
That’s a lot like the excitement building for the Salt Lake Valley’s first-ever, valley-wide Wasatch Studio Tour (WST) on Oct. 12-13, 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. Instead of circus acts in three rings, you’ll see (potentially) over 100 fine artists doing whatever they do in their studios. That’s right, folks, 110 artists working in as many as 20 different mediums (depending on how you count them). Meet them where they work — in backrooms, basements, garages, and large, fancy studios. See how they magically turn wax, rust, clay, wood, silver, gold, fiber, paper, canvas, paint, film and digital bytes into works of fine art.
But that’s not all. It won’t cost you a dime (unless, of course, you can’t resist buying something).
About a year ago, Salt Lake City artist Mary Tull returned from a trip to Tubac, AZ, where she stumbled upon an open studio event in that small, artsy town. “Why don’t we have something like that here in Salt Lake?” she asked friend and fellow artist Jeff Juhlin.
Juhlin didn’t have the answer but shared her interest. He recalled a similar conversation among artists about 20 years ago. At that time, there were conflicting ideas about how to stage a studio tour and nothing got traction. Most artists would just rather stay in their studios and do what they love than organize an event. But Juhlin remained convinced that artists would benefit from such an event.
Juhlin believes the system of gallery representation works great for a few artists to show and sell their work, but not for most. “It’s difficult to get into galleries,” says Juhlin. “Even if you get in, it’s difficult to sell your work.” A studio tour, on the other hand, gives emerging artists opportunities for visibility; and for more seasoned artists, it’s an opportunity to meet collectors and form relationships.
Many cities and regions organize studio tours: Denver, Boise, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Whidbey Island, Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Francisco, and the whole state of Vermont, to name a few. Juhlin and Tull knew if they wanted to do something like that in Salt Lake they’d need help, so they assembled a committee representing diverse skills and demographics: Chauncy Secrist, a younger artist who works in both 2-D and 3-D assemblage; Sarinda Jones, a nationally-known glass artist and teacher; Kandace Steadman, former arts administrator, currently working in collage; and David LeCheminant, a sculptor who works in wood, with an extensive background in marketing and arts management, and direct experience with San Francisco’s Studio Tour. With Tull’s background in painting and arts management, and Juhlin’s experience as a nationally-recognized artist and instructor, they had a highly skilled team.
Would artists be interested? The team posted an open invitation on Facebook and Instagram in early 2019. “We thought 45 artists would be a respectable number in the first year,” says LeCheminant. “That happened in the first two weeks.”
The most recent count is 110 participating artists. About half of them work in studio clusters, such as Rockwood Studios in Sugarhouse, the Baldwin Radio building in Millcreek, or the Bogue Foundry on the west side of downtown; or they have formed ad hoc artist groups just for this event. Individual studios range from the Avenues to Draper, Cottonwood Heights to South Jordan, and Emigration Canyon to West Valley City.
In addition to geographic diversity, there is also diversity in age, gender, experience, and art mediums. The team considered a juried selection process to help ensure a higher quality of work being shown but decided it was better to be inclusive, especially this first year. In the week before the event, visitors will be able to curate their own tour using a map on the WST website and a searchable list of artists by medium or by name. And the names include some very well known artists, such as Connie Borup and Randall Lake; midcareer artists like Justin Wheatley, John Bell, Hikmet Loe, and Clint Whiting; and many emerging artists, including some recent graduates of university art programs.
The goal of the event, says Tull, is “to get more people into our studios.” But there’s an educational component, too, she says. Visitors will see, “This is what artists do. This is why they do it. Look at the process involved in making art. Now there’s a personal connection with artists. Look at all the diversity of people who are spending part-time or more somehow devoted to art making.”
“One of the purposes of this is to get more people looking at original art,” adds Juhlin. “Exposing them to things they didn’t even know about. I’ve seen a million artist studios and I still want to see people’s studios. This is a way to make that connection, take a peek, and see what our secret life is all about.”
Tull, Juhlin, and LeCheminant all agree: this is just the beginning. The San Francisco Studio Tour is divided into four geographic quadrants over four weekends, says LeCheminant. “This year [in San Francisco] there are more than 880 artists participating.”
“The whole state of Vermont has organized open studio events in every city,” says Tull. “It’s a huge deal. We just want a successful first year — the artists are happy, the public is happy, we’ve learned a lot of things. That’s our goal. Let’s just get through this first year and then evaluate what’s next.”
One thing’s for sure: more funding, in the form of artist fees and/or sponsorships, will be needed next year. This year artists paid $120 each, or $75-$90, depending on the number of artists together in one location. Kandace Steadman applied for a grant for scholarships and received a “Random Act of Art” grant from Utah Division of Arts and Museums. This enabled seven artists to pay just $50 to participate.
Fees and donations cover marketing costs — the web site, social media, postcards, posters, yard signs, and printed tour maps. “Why don’t you have a smartphone app?” asked an artist at a recent workshop for participating artists. “We’d love to,” says LeCheminant. That’s one of many future enhancements that may be possible if this first-year tour goes well.
Much of the success of the tour will depend on the artists themselves. That’s why the team of organizers scheduled two workshops offering advice on marketing, social media, setting up for the studio visit, and how to talk about their art to visitors. “These are things they don’t teach you in art school,” says Juhlin. The identical workshops featured three speakers, followed by a Q&A session.
Emily Ashby, a social media expert, offered tips for maximizing audience relationships on Instagram. Mia Vollkommer, a jewelry artist, former gallery manager and arts administrator, spoke about setting up the studio space for visitors and how to have a memorable conversation. She also offered suggestions on pricing strategies. Adam Hansen, Gallery Director for Meyer Gallery in Park City, focused on communication with visitors and collectors: having a legible artist statement that regular humans can understand; talking to guests in a relaxed way, and finding out what they think about the artwork.
For the relatively low registration fee to participate, the free workshop was a nice added value for those able to attend. What artist hasn’t struggled to explain — in plain English — why their artwork takes its particular form? Art jargon may work fine when speaking to fellow artists or professionals, but the average studio visitor won’t get it.
The workshop was also an opportunity to ask questions, like: “If my studio is in my home, how can I feel safe inviting a bunch of strangers in?” “How can I find other artists to form a group?” And, “What forms of payment should I be prepared to accept?” Or, “What’s Venmo?”
Though artists themselves are key to promoting the event, the WST will provide support in the form of postcards, posters, outdoor signage for each studio, and a printed map. Their website, www.wasatchstudiotour.com, which already has a gallery of artwork from participating artists, will also include a listing of studios by artist and by art medium to help visitors organize their tour. And as a sponsor City Weekly will carry ads about the tour.
For this annual event, what happens after the tour will be as important as what happened before or during. The team, along with participating artists, will gather and analyze data to determine what went well and what could be improved. At a gathering of the artists at some future date, participants will be invited to share experiences and ideas for the future. There will be some way to get feedback from visitors, too.
Tull says this year’s partner and sponsors will be interested in the analysis, too. The Utah Arts Festival is partnering with Wasatch Studio Tour this year. Key sponsors are Salt Lake City Weekly and the Utah Arts Alliance. Other sponsors are the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, Blick Art Materials, Meyer Gallery in Park City, Sweets Candies, Alpine Art and Frame, Aspen Falls Spinal Care Center, Publik Coffee, and CBRE Real Estate. And there may be more sponsors by the time of the event.
Ask anyone on the organizing team about the future and they’ll be delighted to share their own hopes and dreams, often adding, “don’t quote me on this.” It seems likely there will be a second annual Wasatch Studio Tour. And don’t be surprised if it spreads like a wildfire in a hot summer wind to include counties to the east, north, and south of Salt Lake.
To stay informed about Wasatch Studio Tour, event plans, and participating artists, check out the web site (www.wasatchstudiotour.com), and follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@wasatchstudiotourofficial).
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.
Categories: Visual Arts