Visual Arts | WIP

WIP: Douglas Tolman

A year ago, we were busy at Finch Lane Gallery installing our 35×35 exhibit, a showcase for Utah’s young artistic talent. Then the closures hit. (The exhibit only opened to the public, in a limited way, in June.)  A year since the closures, we have decided to check in with the artists from 35×35 to see what they’re working on now in our WIP feature.

A bunker near one of the Green River Launch complex’s launch pads

Douglas Tolman was a student at the University of Utah last year but has since moved to Green River for an AmeriCorps service term. The interdisciplinary artist has family history in the area and says, “Though I’m proud of my hard-working ancestors who made a living off the land, I’m not proud of the part they played in a violent, colonial takeover. Moving here has been somewhat of an effort to facilitate equity and sustainability in a place which has been hit pretty hard by industrial booms and busts as a result of that violent history, but that is a lot easier said than done.”

A few minute bike ride from Tolman’s house is the abandoned Green River Launch complex, a Cold War era military site that worked on rocket launches. “I’ve been making a lot of work there,” Toman says. “The structures are now being reclaimed by nature, but threats of industrial colonization in the form of nuclear power plants and inland ports still loom on the horizon for this tiny town.”

Cottonwood logs being used for a playscape sculpture

As a part of his AmeriCorps service, Toman has been working with Epicenter, a design and community-building nonprofit started by former AmeriCorps volunteers who decided to stay, to design and fundraise for a natural park and outdoor classroom with community feedback. Within the park, Tolman is in the process of building a playscape sculpture using large cottonwood logs. As he works, he says he’s grappling with a series of questions:

-Can one make art for social change and also make a living doing it? Or is this inherently extractive?
-Can one actually use their privileges to facilitate equity and sustainability? If so, can it be done without a savior complex?

-What steps must be taken to ensure “community engagement” is not just a tool to hide gentrification and inequity?


An installation on the launch complex in partnership with Alec Bang for an upcoming show at Finch Lane gallery.

You can learn more about Tolman and his work at If you’d like to get in his headspace a bit, here is are some items from his reading list:

As Radical, As Mother, As Salad, As Shelter: What Should Art Institutions Do Now? – Paper Monument

White Fragility
 – Robin DiAngelo

Confluence: Navigating the Personal & Political On Rivers of the New West – Zak Podmore

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