Last month, crowds roared through downtown Salt Lake, leaving three square blocks closed to traffic. They took over the library, the Salt Lake City and County Government building, and anything they could their hands on. Demonstrations were rampant, and a state of normalcy did not return for a full three days.
Regularly, this would sound concerning. But to those familiar with the Utah Arts Festival, it’s all part of the fun. The Utah Arts Festival was held last month, much to the delight of artsy types the state over. This festival is one of my favorite events in the state, as a good chunk of downtown is closed for the sake of art.
I don’t mean to sound too erudite, but there’s something novel in the concept that we as a state surrender our time, our land and (unfortunately) our money to pay tribute to the arts. It’s a celebration of a subject that knows no parallel.
The festival focuses on all kinds of art, ranging from two- and three-dimensional visual art, to music, to theater, to (my favorite) the culinary arts.
Visual artists are the focus of the arts festival. Styles ranging from realism to stark modernism are displayed in booths lining the streets and parks of Salt Lake. One of the unique aspects of the festival is that all of the artists are there with their work, open to questions and selling their pieces, if you can afford it. While the two-dimensional work is creative, few endeavors can top the ingenuity of the three-dimensional artists, making art with everything from forks to tin cans. One of my favorite pieces I had ever seen was a tin can monster, complete with fierce painted eyes and added claws to make what was once a can of Bartlett pears become a prepackaged nightmare.
Theater, music and dance all play a large role, as there are several stages throughout the festival. Local and national artists perform a range of repertoire, featuring bluegrass, ballet and Shakespeare, all on the same stage in rotating performances. All of the shows are included with the price of admission and add a wonderful live element to the day.
For those of you who have read my food column, you know that to say I love food is the paltriest understatement you could hear. So naturally, the culinary section is one of my favorite aspects of the arts festival.
Vendors line the streets of what has become Culinary Avenue, wafting delicious winds of gourmet food throughout Salt Lake. Local favorites, such as The Pie Pizzeria, are met with long-standing participants like the Roadkill Grill Aussie BBQ stand. For the child at heart (or wallet), they also offer PB&Js for a meager price.
My favorite thing at the arts festival might surprise you. I’ve been going on a regular basis for the last 20 years (I started very young), and instant nostalgia is found for me in a cone of cinnamon roasted almonds. Their stands pepper the walkways, sampling pecans and almonds roasted with cinnamon sugar to the delight of the young and old.
If you missed the Arts Festival this year, I’m sad for you, but not too sad, because it will be back next year. If you go, you’ll find me watching the artistic takeover of Salt Lake, munching on a cone of roasted almonds. If you ask nicely, I might even share.
For more information on the Utah Arts Festival, go to UAF.org.