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June 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 4    
Salt Lake's Granary District, photo by Shalee Cooper.

Raze to Raise . . . from page 1

What are the gemstones of the Granary District?

The most vibrant are the people who live and work in the Granary District.|1| The arts,|2| music and design communities|3| provide manifold gems including the Pickle Factory,|4| Artspace Commons,|5| Bad Dog Arts (for children 7-12), Vita Brevis and Captain Captain art studios, independent music venue Kilby Court,|6| street art,|7| recording studios and rehearsal spaces,|8| the adaptively reused apartments by Eric Steffensen|9| as well as his own home/studio,|10| soon-to-arrive Atlas Architecture Studio and NoBrow Coffee House, Luminous Animation Studios, Art & Frame shop, camera supply store PictureLine, the Classic Car Museum, and screen-printer SpiltInk. Other businesses include Level Nine Sports in a respectfully-restored warehouse, Chic and Unique vintage store, |11| Expert Tailors, Zion Upholstery, and Donna Bella Milan salon in an old fire station. Treasured gems are food purveyors such as Ruby Snap Bakery|12| renowned for its fresh-baked cookies, El Viroleño that serves the best pupuserías in town, and Frida Bistro renowned valley-wide for sophisticated Mexican cuisine.|13| And the district is home to the Red Lotus Buddhist Temple, manufacturers, produce wholesalers, autoshops, a number of non-profit organizations, and a community garden (in progress) at Artspace Commons.

Everyone agrees we must ensure that current residents and businesses in the Granary District are not displaced. As Trish McBride, a designer at the Pickle Factory, told Keri Williams: “I don’t want to see it gentrified. Gentrification takes the luster out of the dirt.”

The buildings are also gems. More than half are older than 50 years, thereby eligible for historic designation, and two are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Silver Brothers' Iron Works Office|14| and Warehouse (550 W. 700 South, currently Safe Haven)|15| and the Fifth Ward Meetinghouse (740 S. 300 West, currently the Buddhist Temple).|16| The unique quality of the Granary District owes in large part to this diverse stock of warehousing, manufacturing, industrial, and office buildings that benefited from the railroad traversing the area.

Another important gem is the location of the Granary District that offers striking mountain views foregrounded by skyline, as well as valued and valuable proximity to freeways and downtown SLC.|17| The 900 West TRAX station adds an additional gem, providing access to public transportation as well as ideal opportunities for transit-oriented development.|18|

Those we interviewed mentioned a number of other assets such as the “quality of light, calmness, affordability,” and “creative vibe” of the area, along with “the sense that anything is possible.” According to resident Shannon McCallum-Law, “This is a suburban rehab center — people come here to recover from suburbia” (interviewed by Keri Williams).

Several groups of people have been offering more gems through dedicating significant time, energy, insight, creativity, and other resources to the Granary District. One of these is the Kentlands Initiative convened by James Alfandre and Christian Harrison to “crowdsource” the Granary District’s future (http://granarydistrict.org). According to this group of over 300 residents, local businesses and others, “The Granary District is a diverse neighborhood with diverse neighbors. It's both out of the way and in the middle of it all. . . .The Granary District has always been a productive place, and its brightest future is as a haven for makers — people with dirty hands, big ideas, and warm hearts. It's gritty, diverse, and grounded." The Kentlands Initiative has been hosting regular public meetings to gather input from as many as possible, collectively advance ideas, and build support for them. In April, they hosted a weeklong charrette (a collaborative session to solve a design problem) in a Granary District warehouse to develop a community vision for the neighborhood and are currently following up to realize this vision.

The Redevelopment Agency (RDA) of SLC created the Granary District Project Area in 1999, providing a mechanism for redeveloping the area through tax increment financing (TIF). In tandem with the City of Salt Lake, the RDA has been working to bring a streetcar to 400 West and 700 South, allow accessory dwelling units and cottage housing, support business and employment development, and engage in strategic planning. Almost an entire city block that served for 70 years as a parking lot for the City’s fleet of cars and trucks offers a 10-acre gem, an opportunity to create a tremendous amenity. This and other vacant lots throughout the district could be transformed into parks, food truck courts, outdoor recreational areas, renewable energy stations, and much more. Likewise, vacant buildings offer opportunities for adaptive reuse, providing housing, shops, schools, gyms, or whatever else might benefit the community.

In addition, six classes from the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah, comprising almost 100 students, turned their gaze to the Granary District this past year.|19| These students have been providing a range of resources including community surveys, research on the social and architectural history of the neighborhood, comparative crime data for the district and other neighborhoods, analysis of soil contamination and remediation recommendations, translation of charrette materials into Spanish and engaging the Spanish-speaking community, and investigating best possibilities from similar districts around the globe regarding integrating nature into the city, maintaining affordability, and introducing renewable energy systems. Students also proposed a range of urban design, landscape, and arts and culture proposals. Sam Katz produced a short video homage to the district, honoring its gems. With Mayor Becker, the College hosted the Mayor’s Symposium in the Rico’s warehouse in February, bringing together a range of local experts on the district, including Frida Bistro owner Jorge Fierro, as well as experts from out of town to instruct, incite, and inspire creative and inclusive approaches to building upon existing assets in the district.

A group of architects and planners at VCBO Architecture has been working on a booklet highlighting “the beautiful side of what is the Granary District in an effort to partner with others passionate about seeing this place become something special” (Greg Walker of VCBO). In partnership with the Kentlands Initiative and SLC Green Drinks, the AIA Utah Young Architects Forum — which includes artists and planners as well as architects — will be hosting Sustain the Granary during the June 15 Gallery Stroll, an event that includes a "Jane's Walk" to showcase existing buildings and promote good design for the district generally (meeting at 6 p.m. at Artspace Commons, look for our June 11 Daily Bytes post for more info).

Finally, the City of Salt Lake formed a Granary District Coordination Committee to unite all who have a stake in the district’s future. This committee performs the critical role of weaving together all of the efforts described above as well as others, preventing us from working at cross-purposes or duplicating efforts, keeping all apprised of city regulations while heeding recommendations for adjusting these, and learning from each other to inform decision-making and facilitate implementation.

Whether residents, local business owners and employees, city officials, developers, architects, planners, or visitors to the area, a consensus prevails that the special qualities of the Granary District should not be forsaken. Instead, we begin with a tabula plena, or full slate, by collectively prospecting for existing gems and creatively polishing them, adorning this neighborhood with urban jewels for the benefit of all.

Dollar Daze . . . from page 1

Some artists — Man Ray comes to mind, and may be the ultimate example — set out, consciously or not, to do something completely original with each new work. In cliché terms, they constantly reinvent the wheel, an arduous task. They also make great demands on the viewer, who must forego continuity of technique and voice from one theme to the next, starting over from scratch in viewing each new work. Both Esperanza Cortes and Michael Pribich, who share their lives but produce art independently, work from a point on the conceptual spectrum far removed from Man Ray’s. As their exhibit at Mestizo gallery this month demonstrates, they seek instead to develop versatile and durable metaphors, each of which is based on useful connections between a visual element and some large, sympathetic area of thought close enough to it that the image can come to represent the idea, much as a word in language comes to mean, not just signify, the thing it names.

In the past or elsewhere today, in times and places more culturally cohesive than our own, such metaphors, or symbols, were shared among educated populations, and familiarity with them was considered proof of membership, the way knowing a language is part of citizenship. In the increasingly divisive environment of the present-day United States, well-heeled factions manipulate such symbols and control the popular discourse they create, just as Church or State did in the past. The art they promote may not advocate for them directly, but generates good will for their interests. This means it’s left up to individuals to create another visual language for the demotic majority that would otherwise be excluded. If art today is a splintered enterprise, it’s partly due to this division between the interests of those who primarily pay for and promote it, and the audience that seeks, or at least is aware of not getting, the honest language it needs to enable a shared understanding of the human condition at present.

The eye, of course, has been used to stand for many things. Coincidentally, the organ painted so often by Esperanza Cortes is part of an ancient code engraved on every dollar in Michael Pribich’s secular altars, assembled by him—perhaps with a soupçon of irony—in recognition of the enduring value of hard work and the necessary faith that it will be rewarded. In fact, flexibility is what makes a modern symbol work where the symbols of the past have fallen out of favor; in a place and time where citizens who live near certain kinds of mining operations can literally light their tap water on fire, how is water to stand for purity, as it did for artists in the middle ages? Arrayed on her wall, Cortes’ rainbow of emotionally expressive eyes assume a kind of moral authority. Yet in another work, "Emergency Alert System,"|0| they enlist themselves in the project by which our own government seemingly deliberately kept its citizens in a state of constant fear and suspicion, in order to make the population easier to control and even to deceive. One step further along on the path from skepticism to cynicism, "Identity System" presents perhaps the only theft-proof ID: the bearer’s own features, assembled on cards in a wallet that can be flipped through.|1|

While Cortes adds traditional craft’s media to her painting, Michael Pribich assembles his installations from a combination of found and manipulated materials. A dollar bill in an otherwise empty frame prompts viewers in an age of digital selection to wonder what might be missing, or invisible, or in any event, left to others to provide. An array of such oddly framed bills, a shelf-full, with gold frames, as in "Certificate," says something inchoate, or withholds something important, about economic activity.|2| Place a second dollar across the first like the arms of a cross, then assemble a display of them atop a ladder, like in "Higher Goals,"|3| and a critique of values and their exchange rates is only one possibility that comes to mind. Pribich also hangs together some of the heavy, wide leather belts laborers (those who are fortunate enough to have any safety equipment available) must wear to prevent their spines from exploding under the load of what they carry. In case the point is lost, a set of chains hang similarly nearby. Under the free market, slavery takes many forms.

When reviewing art so rich in possible meanings, there is a temptation to just go on explaining them, pointing out specific connections. What is the actual source of the naggingly familiar brass tubing making up Pribich’s "Cross?"|4| Where do the colors Cortes used to bead her noose come from? But in the first place, these artists work the way they do because they know they can only begin the work, bring it along to the best of their abilities, and then put it out there to be completed by whomever sees it. So anything I, or they, have to say is just one opinion, hopefully among many. More to the point, and this has everything to do with art’s evolution away from its information-heavy, not to say hectoring nadir during the last decades of the twentieth century, art that relies solely on dry content is art with at best a very brief lifespan. What do we do when the agony or the ecstasy conveyed by a powerful work no longer actively moves us, and the data that comprised it has grown familiar? Aesthetics isn’t just the way in, the way to sweeten the message into palatability. Unlike 2+2=4, the equation Pribich assembles in "Less Than Equal To,"|5| the two parts divided by a golden mean, with ‘less than’ appearing above the line and ‘equal to’ below it, gets through to the eye and stimulates a more complex feeling of balance, and does so in a way that resists becoming exhausted. Like a portrait of a loved one, the eyes of Esperanza Cortes greet us newly on each encounter. Slowly, they and we unlock together the connections between things that our eyes can see, but our words can never exhaust.

Emergency Alert System by Esperanza Cortes
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