Organization Spotlight | Visual Arts

Bad Dog Rediscovers America: An interview with Michael Moonbird and Victoria Lyons

Bad Dog Rediscovers America is a grassroots arts organization that is flourishing. From its beginning in 1997 in a small, live/work apartment where it served about 30 low-income youths, the organization now has spacious digs in the Artspace City Center building, serves 2,000 students annually with a curriculum that is innovative, exciting and professional, providing tools to help today’s youth prepare for an optimistic future. As they prepare for an exhibit at Salt Lake’s Main Library this month, Executive Director Michael Moonbird and Program Director Victoria Lyons sat down with us to discuss the past, present and future of the organization.Beginning
Victoria Lyons: The initial inspiration [for Bad Dog] was from working in a summer program with Artspace. We saw a need for kids to have art year-round and nothing existed at the time. The initial idea was to be able to provide art primarily to children without access to art, to provide art to 100 percent of low income, underserved children.

Michael Moonbird: Just prior to doing this I went out and made up a sheet introducing business people to our concept, what we wanted to do all year round. I went out and . . . talking to different business people in the local community I raised about $800 in a week and a half to two weeks; so that is initially how we got our start. Our first donation was about 10 bucks.

VL: And so it was started out of a two-bedroom apartment; kids would come to the apartment space, it was a very intimate environment. Where most people had their kitchens and living rooms we had art tables and art supplies everywhere.|1|

MM: It was sort of a home away from home. We took a small bedroom and made a loft bed and an office below and a little TV area and that was our space. The rest was basically donated to the program.

VL: It had its upsides and its downsides; the commute to work was very short but you’re kind of at work 24/7.

MM: After that, with Stephen Goldsmith, founder and then-director of Artspace, we created an art gallery in our apartment and we were open on Gallery Stroll nights. Stephen brought people in on tour that were from the banking community, like US Bank and Wells Fargo; when they saw what we were doing they said to us, “We can help you write a grant for this.” The quality of the art that we do with kids was very well received with people. So that’s how we started getting involved into how to write grants and that really sparked growth.

VL: What sparked the interest for the kids was being able to work with professional artists, being able to work with real art materials, so rather than tempera and construction paper, we use high-quality art materials; we provide a wide variety for kids to explore and experiment with so, if the kid isn’t into watercolor, they don’t have to have the idea that “Oh, I’m not good at watercolor so I’m not good at art.”

The Vision
 We don’t want to impose every child coming in to be an artist. There are those kids that come in and really excel in art and move into that area and we do everything we can to get them into college and art school. There are always different circumstances with every family and child that we work with. They can utilize this to do anything they want to do in any type of career, whatever their goals are.

VL: Art is a vehicle and what we do with kids is not to try and produce necessarily future artists, it’s more about helping kids become their best future selves and productive future citizens. The arts teach teamwork, cooperation, life skills and social competencies, problem solving and I think most important is an “I can do it” attitude in life in general.

Seeing the Results:
VL: The important thing about being an artist is being able to show and exhibit your work, so being able to put childrens’ art on display as professionally as possible as our budgets permit is important. We want to show their work in venues that are high profile around the city. To introduce children to go beyond refrigerator art, and their families and friends are invited to opening receptions, and it is treated like any professional adult artist. [see below for the next opening]

MM: We have done a lot of strategizing. There are times when we will experiment. We started to learn that it takes a whole different philosophy and strategy to go inside of a school and work in the classroom environment during school hours.

VL: We don’t have a set formula when we go into a school; we like to build relationships with the principal, with the teachers, the administration to find out what their needs are and their vision for the school, and we don’t have standard projects done over and over again. This is an artist-run organization. We have always been hands-on.

MM: We have a vision of working with diverse groups of children of all types and as we expand into our community we are looking at ways we can expand into other communities in the United States and possibly internationally because we’ve gotten some praise from other people that have gotten to know what we do and how we work. That vision really is about what our mantra is and that mantra is “Imagine, Dare, Create.”

You can see the results of one of Bad Dog Rediscovers America’s programs this month at the Salt Lake City Main Library.  The Bad Dog Art Apprenticeship Program is designed for teens who are artistically inclined and can go beyond what they learn in a high school setting. The teens get to work directly with a professional artist in a small group setting in that area of expertise. For this apprenticeship program students learned Comic Art from Bill Galvan (script interpretation, idea sketches, and penciling) and Trevor Neilson (inking techniques) and digital photography from Bruce Hucko. Through the Eyes of Youth by Bad Dog Rediscovers America is at the Main Library from Monday, Dec. 14th to Feb. 5, 2010. Public reception: Thursday, Dec. 17, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

To learn more about Bad Dog programming visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.