I started out on this exploraspective adventure hunting for public art in Salt Lake City, UT, hoping I’d find enough to comprise a blogpost.
I found some, all right – so much that I’ve had to limit myself to posting only mural art…
When I accepted a six-month work assignment in Park City, Utah, I figured I’d be happy based in this mountain town, and that I might occasionally drive down to the city to take advantage of urban amenities. Having lived in the intermountain west for more than a decade, I’d been to downtown Salt Lake many times. I’d never spent time “wandering around” Salt Lake like I always do in other cities. To be frank, the overwhelming presence of the LDS (Mormon) Church’s monolithic buildings downtown had always deterred me from hanging out there, for both aesthetic and ideological reasons.
This winter, however, I found myself visiting Salt Lake City every week, and sometimes two or three times per week. I won’t say that I “fell in love” with it; I’d have to say that it worked its way into my heart, slowly but surely, every time I took a different route to a landmark I was seeking out.
What I found was a little more personality than I expected. Yes, the giant wedding-cake fortresses dominate Temple Square. But, leave that district, and quirky old brick buildings, interesting sheet metal warehouses, stylish cafes, and yes – mural art – abound.
Salt Lake City’s Warehouse District seems to be ground zero for public art. This neighborhood has a checkered past, which includes being the designated “red light district” for the city in the early 1900’s. Today, this part of the city is very diverse, housing both hipster lofts and tenement houses as well as an array of old-school industrial businesses and edgy tech-oriented studios. The Warehouse District also seems to be the living and lingering center for Salt Lake’s homeless community, with a number of free clinics and popular soup kitchens located in its heart. I love this combination, and find it very fitting – for exactly the same reason that I love mural art.
Murals may be my favorite form of visual expression. I never cease to appreciate the way they can brighten drab urban landscapes and bring a smile to my face. For me, art placed in museums often feels overly controlled. Between the incredibly strict climatic environment of most museums and the stiff guards that keep a watchful eye on it, there’s not much room for my experience. Mural art, on the other hand, strikes me as being so much freer, spacious, and uncontrolled. Murals are frequently on outside walls where they are exposed to the elements. There are no entrance fees, lines, guards, or hours associated with them. Anyone can see street murals, at any time, for as long as they’d like. In fact, you could paint over one if you so chose; it’s out of respect and enjoyment for it that folks generally don’t.
I think there’s a “fringe factor” to urban murals, as there is to living on the streets of a big American city. For this reason, I’m glad that Salt Lake’s murals encircle the city’s homeless population, as thought the art is enveloping them in a colorful embrace of encouragement. They deserve it.
I hope they never cease to bring smiles to their faces – or mine.