Art festivals in Salt Lake have provided a way for local art to break out of the museum and into the community. Flooding the streets of downtown with vendors, musicians, performance artists, and more gives community members an opportunity to find common ground through art. The Utah Arts Alliance’s Urban Arts Fest, hosted at The Gateway on Sept. 2–4, accomplishes this goal while curating diverse mediums and cultural staples, offering visitors and participating artists wider points of view.
How This Festival is Different from the Others
An arts and culture experience that deviates from the norm, the Urban Arts Fest is a free, three-day festival featuring national and local art vendors, musicians, live art performances, competitions, and cultural exhibits. What separates the Urban Arts Fest from other Utah festivals is its incorporation and spotlighting of the social and cultural life of Utah’s underrepresented communities. “We are bringing in parts of art culture that are left out of the framework when you are thinking about art,” says Cleopatra Balfour, Urban Arts Fest’s Events and Festival Manager. “The Urban Arts Festival has more of an eclectic variety that is not seen at your traditional arts festivals.”
Art That Strengthens Communities
As Utah grows and diversifies, the arts and culture markets are an important aspect as art becomes a powerful point of connection for people among their communities. “Using arts to create a more aware, empowered, and connected community is the core of the Utah Arts Alliance mission,” Balfour says. “The more opportunities, such as the Urban Arts Festival, to do that, the better and stronger our communities can be.” Now in its 12th year, the Urban Arts Festival continues fostering non-traditional mediums such as graffiti and skate deck art. “When the Urban Arts Fest first started, non-traditional mediums were not given space,” Balfour says. “Putting low riders and graffiti on a platform and showcasing it opens up what people consider to be art. People can observe the talent and time it takes to produce these artforms.”
The Annual Skate Deck Challenge
The Annual Skate Deck Challenge inspired the festival to take its new shape. “The Utah Arts Alliance put on the skate deck challenge to showcase art in new ways while giving a platform for the different aspects of the artistic culture here in Utah,” Balfour says. “It was so successful [that] it turned into the festival as a whole.” The challenge is hosted at the Urban Arts Gallery and prompts local artists to use a blank skate deck to paint, build upon, engrave, and transform how they see fit for the three-day competition during the festival. Voting takes place during the first two days of the festival (Friday and Saturday) with awards announced on Sunday during the Skate Deck Challenge ceremony.
Check Out the Murals
Live mural painting is another beloved Urban Arts Festival activity. Curated by local artist and mural participant Josh Scheuerman with support from The Blocks, the live mural painting features 32–34 artists creating their pieces as the festival goes on. “You can come down at any time and see the live mural artist painting,” Balfour says. “During the festival, you can see the street on Rio Grande explode in color with all of the murals coming to life.” True to Utah Arts Alliance’s commitment to sustainability, they reuse the artwork after the festival. “We love to hold on to those art pieces and utilize them in different cultural events throughout the years,” Balfour says.
The Low Rider Exhibit
“One of my favorite aspects of our festival is the Low Rider exhibit,” says Balfour. The annual Lowrider Custom Car Culture Exhibit taking place on Friday, Sept. 2 offers a look into the artistry of custom lowriders, hoppers and bikes. Balfour says, “I love to see the different cars and the way they are designed. The effort they put into it is really reflective of the Latinx culture.” At the end of the night, the festival hosts a Hop Off competition, where the hopper model car that jumps the highest wins a prize.
Hard-N-Paint Street Basketball League
In keeping with the competitive spirit, the festival also hosts a basketball league for youth and adults called Hard-N-Paint, which is open to the public and takes place on the last day of the festival, Sunday. Premiering in 2012, Hard-N-Paint offers space for authentic street basketball by including scrimmages such as a 3-point shootout game, a slam dunk contest, and a pick up game. Hard-N-Paint is another way the festival attempts connecting the broader Utah audience to underrepresented parts of our community by putting common cultural activities in an arts context.
Hip Hop Performances
The Urban Arts Fest’s approach and inclusion of various voices has caught the attention of both national artists and national musicians. “A lot of the Urban Arts Festival is connected to the Hip Hop community,” says Balfour. “The connection to art can be rooted in social movements, a lot of that can be circulated locally and nationally.” Salt Lake City’s HERC (Hip Hop Entertainment and Resource Center) do a B-Boy and Girl dance battle each year. This year, they will perform right before their headliner, Rahzel, a three-time Grammy award-winning beatboxer and rapper who is also a former member of The Roots. “The Festival has a history of bringing Hip Hop Legends to town, and we are excited to continue that legacy with these renowned artists,” says Festival Manager Kim Angeli. Entertainment will also include Hip Hop artist Carnage the Executioner alongside a variety of performances from local poets and Kiki Cabaret, a burlesque and cirque performance troupe.
This year, returning art vendors and new vendors alike look forward to the opportunity of being part of the Urban Arts Festival. Long-standing returning vendor Scott Tuckfield says “As an artist it is hard to know how to gain exposure and market yourself after you create your work. Thanks to the Urban Arts Gallery and Urban Arts Fest, I’ve been able to share my work with the community.”