by Tyler Ford
At one point or another you've driven by the cryptic sign adorning the brown building on the west side of State Street at 2220 South: "Free Coffee Art." I asked a few of my friends what the hell it meant. "I'll bet it's chic clothing or something, like 'we're so hip that we can't even advertise directly,'" one friend said. I thought it was a ridiculously massive "art" collection consisting of napkins that had coffee spilled on them in "really interesting" patterns, and that if one of the pieces struck you in some way, you could take it free of charge. I also thought, more logically, that the sign was trying to convey the presence of coffee (for free) and art (for purchase).
I went down to Free Coffee Art on a Saturday night, mostly out of my desire to figure out what the fucking sign meant. When I got there, I noticed the parking lot completely empty, and like a concerned father, Robert Evan Howard watched me walk through the front door before lifting his plastic heat shield that separates his office from the entryway.
For 35 years, Howard has been the driving force behind the A.C.L.E.P.D. – The Artisans and Collector's Lodge and the Environmental Projects Division. The A.C.L. half is concerned with promoting the arts, and to protect the freedom of speech – the built-in hidden agenda of all artistic endeavors. The E.P.D. does what it says.
By joining the A.C.L., which comes at no cost, the artist garners himself/herself a free workspace in a 6-acre facility dedicated to the creation of art. The second part of this sweet deal is that the artist is able to sell work on site, and the A.C.L. takes no commission. On top of this, the artist gets a certain amount of free space at www.aclepd.com, and can reap the benefits of having Howard market their work to galleries and exhibits. He'll even teach you how to paint or sculpt for free. The artist is entitled to the space and its perks "as long as there's no kiddie porn or they're not peddling drug paraphernalia," says Howard. As he explained, for an artist to have a business license in Salt Lake county – which they need in order to sell work – they must pay a fee of $30 a year. Once an artist does pay the fee, they are subjected to a number of encumbering regulations, the strangest of which might be that you must make your art 18 inches off the ground. This means that if you buy a pair of plain shoes, and then scribble some crap on them (while you're wearing them) and sell them to somebody, either the scribbled-on shoes are not art, or you're in deep shit. Regardless, Howard and the A.C.L. think this is royally stupid. So, the beauty of the A.C.L. is that it provides a workaround for artists who can't afford to pay the fee for a business license, plus rent for a workspace, AND commissions on sold works.
After talking for a few minutes in his office, he offered me a tour of the facility. I expected to see maybe a few people working, or at least the signs of a few artists making use of this free space, but after we passed the large front room that acts as a gallery, there was nothing but cavernous, empty space. Room after room of un-occupied area, lying vacant and crying out to be used! I mumbled to myself something about there not being a lot of artists in Utah, and Howard added, "No, its just really cold." He can only heat his front office, so the rest of the space is frigid at the moment, to put it nicely. Howard says there are people that come in to work during the warmer months, but still not many. I asked him if he wanted me to play this up; the sad fact that this space is free and no one's using it. "Whatever will promote the arts is what I'm interested in," he said, "I'm not going to want to fund Star Wars, but I want them to know that the space is here and they can basically use it for whatever they want." If you're an artist, and you're not working for a lack of workspace, put on a thick coat and take the bus down to 2220 State Street.