by Jeff Heilman, Meetings Focus | West
Since Utah’s founding days, its citizens have made arts and culture an integral part of their lives and communities. The earliest pioneers built theaters and social halls alongside churches; the Utah Arts Council, established in 1899 just three years after Utah became the 45th state in the union, is the nation’s oldest state arts agency.
The cultural scene has evolved with the state itself, especially in the Salt Lake County area. In the early 1960s, local leaders identified a number of signature development projects as part of its Second Century Plan, including a civic auditorium to house dance, drama and the symphony.
This vision was realized a decade later with the construction of Abravanel Hall and the renovation of the landmark Capitol Theatre, both funded by the 1975 Bicentennial Bond.
Heralded for its world-class acoustics, Abravanel Hall today is part of a preeminent three-venue collection owned and operated by the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts that also includes the Capitol Theatre and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
Along with a number of other first-class event-capable museums, theaters, festivals and artistic interactions, these signify Salt Lake City’s strength as a dynamic cultural destination for groups and visitors. In nearby Park City, where live theater was a cultural staple even in its rough and tumble days as a mining center, an eclectic, artistic milieu provides planners with even more options.
Founding pioneer Brigham Young, who called for the building of the Salt Lake Theatre in 1862 (known as the “Cathedral in the Desert,” this legendary venue, now no more, once drew national acts), would be proud of the Salt Lake area’s fidelity to the arts.
Here are eight local choices for inspiring cultural connections.
UTAH MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (UMOCA),
SALT LAKE CITY
Previously the Salt Lake Art Center, originally established in 1931, UMOCA advantageously sits adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center in the heart of Salt Lake City.
“Our location means that we are by far the most convenient venue in town for business visitors who want to schedule a meeting or event in a unique cultural space,” says Adam Price, executive director of UMOCA. “Regularly offering exhibitions of work by internationally recognized artists as well as the best emerging artists from our state, we are also proud to be able to provide visitors with the kind of premier art experiences more commonly associated with New York, London and Tokyo.”
Routinely hosting a mix of local and national groups, the museum’s rental facilities include a 155-seat auditorium ideal for film screenings, panel discussions and presentations, along with after-hours access to the galleries, office space and a courtyard for receptions of up to 200. Additionally, groups may book a 30-minute private tour of UMOCA exhibitions as part of their event. PageBreak
THE DEPOT, SALT LAKE CITY
With railroad lines across Utah playing an important role in the development of commerce and industry in the American West, Salt Lake City’s historic Union Pacific Railway Station, built in 1909, is an evocative reminder of the prosperous era of American railroad travel.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the station now anchors the open-air Gateway District retail, office, dining and entertainment complex in the heart of the city. Occupying three floors within the historic structure, the aptly named Depot is among Utah’s leading indoor concert and private event venues.
“Equipped with the leading audio and video technology, The Depot offers 37,000 square feet of state-of-the-art space,” says Bobby Aragon, the venue’s event sales manager. “In addition to the centerpiece 1,200-capacity, two-level concert hall, our mezzanine level includes VIP suites providing an impressive view of the stage below.”
Offering sweeping downtown views, the Blue Goose room (named for a robin’s egg blue and silver-painted steam engine from the 1930s) is ideally suited for more intimate gatherings, along with the flexible open-concept 400 Room, accommodating up to 200 attendees.
SALT LAKE CITY
Also situated in the Gateway District, this fun and engaging venue opened in 2003, replacing the city’s historic Hansen Planetarium. Themed around space exploration, the roomy facility can flexibly entertain up to 900 attendees in a variety of compelling environments.
Seating 205 people, the Clark’s 360-degree Hansen Dome Theatre uses 3D computer animation and digital projection to create thrilling intergalactic visual experiences for guests, and includes a small staging area in the front for live presentations and special events. Serving as the entrance to the theater, the third-floor exhibit space, separated from the rest of the Planetarium, can flexibly accommodate receptions and other gatherings of between 180 and 225 people.
Featuring a state-of-the-art surround sound system, the 288-seat ATK IMAX Theatre, newly renovated in 2010, is an auditory tour de force. For a fully immersive experience, planners can rent the full building for private events, with the option of including the IMAX Theatre. The package includes shows in the Dome Theatre and IMAX Theatre, plus access to all 10,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits. PageBreak
THE LEONARDO AT LIBRARY SQUARE, SALT LAKE CITY
Like its namesake Leonardo da Vinci, this striking new venue takes a revolutionary look at the world through the unique combination of science, art and technology. Opened last year in the former longtime home of the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Leonardo’s uniquely interactive and thought-provoking approach is ideal for organizations and other groups in search of fresh perspectives.
“Our unique mission allows us to be more than a museum,” says Alexandra Hesse, executive director at the venue. “In the short time we’ve been open, we have already established ourselves as a hub for creative thinking and innovative ideas. Whether it’s a group of students on a field trip, a company holding a special event, or a group of executives on a retreat, The Leonardo offers a truly inspiring environment.”
With versatile space throughout the building, including the 500-person-capacity Event Center, a 194-seat auditorium and boardroom and conference rooms with stunning views of the Wasatch mountain range, the Leonardo’s group programs range from field trips to “Night at the Leo” sleepovers for kids.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF UTAH At RIO TINTO CENTER, Salt Lake City
Located in the Wasatch Mountain foothills above Salt Lake City and featuring breathtaking views of the Salt Lake Valley, the striking Rio Tinto Center opened last November as the long-anticipated new home of Utah’s natural history museum building.
Offering interactive explorations and discoveries of our planet’s history via dynamic exhibitions of dinosaurs, mineralogy, native peoples and much more, the facility also provides a number of evocative function and gathering spaces.
The venue’s signature space, The Canyon can accommodate up to 375 people for seated dinners and up to 700 for receptions. Planners can also add the Gallery Stroll to a Canyon event, where guests enjoy exclusive access to seven themed exhibit galleries on three levels.
Sustainability is a major focus at the Rio Tinto. With attributes including one of the largest solar panel installations in the state and natural lighting throughout, the venue, a case study in green design, expects to receive LEED Gold certification within the next two years. PageBreak
KIMBALL ART CENTER, PARK CITY
In 1976, local arts enthusiast Bill Kimball and members of the Park City community transformed a dilapidated garage on historic Main Street into a nonprofit community center for the visual arts. Following a comprehensive refresh for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the venue today serves as one of the city’s leading cultural stages.
In addition to showcasing works from national and local artists and offering a range of art workshops and classes, the Kimball hosts the annual Park City Kimball Arts Festival, Utah’s longest running such event, attracting over 40,000 people from around the country.
Flexibly accommodating groups for a range of business and social gatherings, the Kimball’s versatile options include the spacious Main Gallery, which can seat 300 people theater-style or up to 200 for sit-down dinners. With over 600 square feet of open floor space, the lower level Badami Gallery can accommodate between 75 and 100 people, while the 4,000-square-foot patio on Main Street is ideal for outdoor events.
SUNDANCE RESORT, SUNDANCE
In 1981, famed actor and director Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute in Park City to foster independence, discovery and new voices in American film. Of the Institute’s many year-round programs in Utah and elsewhere, the annual Sundance Film Festival, held in and around Park City each January, is a signature global event.
Groups seeking some of that Sundance magic can repair about 45 minutes south of Park City to this heavenly four-season retreat, set in scenic Provo Canyon and surrounding lands purchased by Redford back in 1969.
With 12,000-foot Mount Timpanogos towering overhead, the inspirations abound for meetings in spaces including the Screening Room, the original home of the Sundance Film Festival, and the new environmentally friendly Redford Conference Center.
At 4,200 square feet, Rehearsal Hall is the resort’s largest indoor function facility, while groups can also gather at several stunning outdoor spaces. Hands-on creativity is also on the menu, with daily workshops at the Art Shack Studios.
EGYPTIAN THEATRE, PARK CITY
With its “dramatically different” billing, this local treasure has seen several reincarnations since the late 1800s. After fire, then snow, claimed the first two cultural venues on this site, the Egyptian Theatre opened in 1926 as a showplace for films and live performances.
Influenced by the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the designers went for an Egyptian motif. Under the supervision of an Egyptologist from Seattle, the theater was decorated with lotus leaves, scarabs, hieroglyphics and symbols of life and happiness.
In addition to Sundance Film Festival screenings, the intimate venue, located on Park City’s historic Main Street, hosts a wide range of music, comedy, theatrical and other shows. With 266 seats plus an additional 24 seats at cabaret tables, the venue is also available for seminars, private functions, weddings and other gatherings.
Regular Meetings Focus West contributor Jeff Heilman’s deep cultural connection to Utah also goes back to 1981—but that film was never made.