(L–R) Emily Parr and Megan Dunn aim to create more WTF-friendly spaces by forming an all-ladies alleycat race later this year. Photo: Jessica Bundy

Megan Dunn and Emily Parr are cyclists who ride fixies, and they ride fast. “There’s something about it—not having brakes and stuff,” Dunn says. “It’s kind of scary, but it’s kind of fun. You only have yourself to control and stop your bike.” The two connected over their shared love of intense cycling. “Megan and I like to ride hard,” Parr says. “We like to mash, and we like to go fast and push each other to do cooler things and be a better biker and get stronger.” They joked that they were “inappropriate boys,” a nickname that lent itself to their group, Inappropriate Boys Club (@inappropriate.boys.club on Instagram), which they started last fall to showcase their moves and publicize the races they put on.

The duo got into biking separately. Parr says, “It was just like a way to get out of the house, you know?” Dunn grew up in Salt Lake City and got around via bike in high school. “It wasn’t very nice. It was pretty shitty, and I ate shit a lot,” she says of her biking at the time. She started working at Specialized after she graduated and then got her first single-speed bike. Both slowly got more into biking, entering races and upgrading their bikes one part at a time. Eventually, they met doing sandwich bike delivery at Jimmy John’s. Of that job, at which both women still work at least occasionally, Parr says, “You’re forced to bike for hours at a time, and you can’t stop. It just builds you up.”

Women are often few and far between in the bike groups the pair hang out with, such as FOAD and 3Bs Collective, longtime fixtures in the SLC freestyle scene. “It’s been an adventure, being one of the only girls in the bike scene,” Dunn says. “I like to be competitive and bike and race really fast, so most of the people I’ve biked with are guys.” Step into those groups, and you’ll usually find a bunch of long-haired dudes; a pile of shiny, dinged-up, heavily modified bikes; beer; blood and lots of burritos. Dunn and Parr agree that if you want to ride, gender doesn’t matter. “We ride because we like to fucking ride. And it’s not about being a girl,” Parr says. But she also notes that “biking is super boys’-club shit sometimes.”

“Starting is the hardest part. Because it seems overwhelming, but everyone just needs to realize you learn things by just learning little pieces, here and there.”

Breaking that stereotype is at least part of the reason they started IBC, which hosted its first race in February—an out-and-back, all-gender ride called 14 Shots to the Dome that ended up being 12 shots (of pickle juice tomato juice, apple-cider vinegar, kale-celery juice and shitty vodka) and 35 miles. Three people dropped out. Both Dunn and Parr finished. “I think a lot of girls are taught that being competitive is bad,” Parr says, “or they’re afraid to be slow at first.” She acknowledges that getting into biking was intimidating for her, too. “I think a lot of girls want to do it, but it’s hard to know where to start.”

For the duo, the recipe to getting started—and getting better—is simple: “It’s about riding as hard as you fucking can. The more you ride, the better you get. That’s how you get better, is just by doing it,” Parr says. Women-friendly spaces like WTF (women, trans, femme) Nights at the Bike Collective have been an invaluable resource for both women. Other events—like Beehive Bike Polo’s WTF–only nights—make biking more accessible to women and nonbinary people in SLC, especially newcomers. “Starting is the hardest part. Because it seems overwhelming, but everyone just needs to realize you learn things by just learning little pieces, here and there.” In the WTFNB-only vein, Dunn has been trying to convince a friend to put on an all-ladies alleycat race, though IBC may end up hosting it later this year.

“The best thing about crashing is I don’t give a fuck.”

Making an Instagram account, shooting videos, joining group rides—all of this creates visibility in the online and real-life fixie community and helps other WTFNB people know, “Hey, we’re here and we’re killing it, too!” Dunn and Parr placed sixth and eighth, respectively, in a recent 3Bs alleycat race. Dunn says her goal this year is get first overall in a race: “I’ve been preparing a long time for this,” she says. Parr refers to it as “next-level shit,” meaning winning first, not just in the women’s category, but overall. The two say it’s hard to get that strong, but not impossible. All you have to do is keep riding. “I was just keeping up for a long time, and now I’m passing everyone, which is a really cool feeling,” Dunn says. “It’s been fun to be a girl and be able to keep up because girls are fast, too!”

For both women, biking is everything. It’s a means of self-sufficiency (riding through blizzards will do that to you). It’s a family and a community of fellow weirdos to rely on. It’s a way of life: “Being a little bit sweaty all the time, and sneakers, and endless amounts of jackets and layers and stuff, backpacks—only bikers get it,” Dunn says. It’s a sense of resiliency: “The best thing about crashing is I don’t give a fuck,” Parr says. It’s a space where they and other women can be themselves. Because, really, they’re here to “just fucking ride.” Dunn and Parr aren’t sure what IBC will ultimately become—but keep an eye on their Instagram page for new videos and notifications of upcoming rides and races.


More on SLUGMag.com:
Shifting Gears: SLC Bike Collective’s Women, Trans, Femme Program
FOAD: The Good Times are Killing Me

Jack Garcia is the Editor and co-creator of Utah Valley’s peculiar literary journal and hopes to create a platform for fellow LGBTQ+ creatives. Photo Courtesy of Jack Garcia

Provo-based literary journal peculiar began during a conversation between friends Jack Garcia and Aaron Gates. Garcia had recently graduated from Utah Valley University, and Gates was close to graduating. Both were wondering what came next. “We were both submitting work to places and, of course, getting the classic rejection letters you get from journals. It was just a late-night conversation,” Garcia says. One of the two asked the question “What if we started a literary journal?” And peculiar was born.

Garcia and Gates recruited Emily Mattson, a local graphic designer and UVU student, as the Creative Director and UVU graduate Rebekah Cuevas as Copy Editor. Backed by a Kickstarter campaign, the staff—whom Gates says they refer to as their “peculiar family”—released their first issue in May of 2015, 80 pages that featured 21 Utah-based LGBTQ+ writers. From its inception, the journal has occupied a particular niche: the intersection of the queer community at large and the local, Mormon-centric Utah County community.

Drawing on their own experiences of being gay and living in Utah County, Garcia and Gates hoped to create a community of people like them, people who could understand the peculiarities of Utah and its people. Of the LDS community, Garcia says, “We all kind of carry that with us. I sometimes think that as much as you’re leaving the Church, you don’t leave the Church. I used to think that was a bad thing—but it informs everything we do.” They hope that their unique perspective can act as a beacon to other LGBTQ+ people who are LDS, ex-LDS, or LDS-adjacent. “I hope with all my heart that in some way, having a Utah-based, queer literary journal can show any queer person who is feeling alone, that every area, every culture, every experience has another queer person there that they can look to for an example or for inspiration,” says Gates.

In this vein, Garcia cites a poem by Jennifer Duqué that appeared in the first issue of peculiar, “For Brown Rural Queers Who Celebrated Pioneer Day.” “It’s an interesting juxtaposition of what is it to be Hispanic in America, and queer and Mormon. It echoes a lot of lines that pop up in Church hymns,” Garcia says. Duqué writes toward the beginning of the poem, “we will sing as we walk / & walk & walk & walk” and closes the poem with powerful lines, “we will come to understand / that our bodies are settled territory / crisscrossed with accidents / but spined with ancient seeds.”

It’s this spirit of a new kind of pioneer—of doubly peculiar people in a land of peculiar people— that the staff of the journal were afraid of losing by branching out beyond Utah County. But with staff members spreading across the U.S.—Gates recently moved to Seattle, and Cuevas is now based in California—it was only fitting to open the journal to new voices in new places. peculiar has published five issues featuring work solely from writers who have lived or currently live in Utah. Their sixth is open to writers around the world. But to hold on to the Utah-inflected ethos of the journal, the peculiar staff has created a new writing contest only open to Utah writers and former Utahns. Though submissions are closed for Issue 6, peculiar is open for submissions of art and all genres of writing approximately twice a year at peculiarjournal.com. 

The new contributor guidelines aren’t the only change that the staff has made as they spread across the country—they are no longer simply hopping in the car and poring through submissions together in person. While Jack manages local events and readings in Utah, the far-flung staff works together through email and Skype to produce each issue of the journal, and in-person interaction with writers has been more difficult. “It’s a bittersweet progression,” Gates says. “It’s been a little bit of a surprise to realize that as we expand more, it’s harder to have as personal of interactions with those we publish. But getting to expand our reach and those we publish is wonderful.”

In-person events—like the readings for each issue, held at Pioneer Book in Provo—have helped the journal cement its community. “Whenever we have readings, it’s—I don’t want to say spiritual—but it’s a moving experience where everyone is really impacted by the words,” Garcia says. “It’s enough to keep us going where we’re like this is important. This is something we should do.” But it’s really the words—whether they’re read out loud or on the page—that have made the journal into the resonant force it is now. “I constantly am amazed, every issue, at the remarkable work contributors submit to us,” Gates says. That work includes, Garcia says, “everything from fun short stories about crime-fighting drag queens, to really honest little nonfiction pieces.”

peculiar has become a place for those who don’t fit the standard narrative to find a home. “Something I am actually pretty excited about is that we’ve got quite a lot of submissions from trans people,” Garcia says. “That, I am really proud of, because especially right now, when we have Trump saying we’re erasing trans identities now—that they don’t exist—I’m proud to know we have at least lifted up a handful of trans people.” As Gates writes in the foreword to the most recent issue of the journal, “These queer voices are the voices of creation, of rebellion, of hope, of a fight to show how the world will never stop.” Speaking of stopping, the peculiar staff doesn’t plan to. Their next step is officially becoming a nonprofit.

Sudweeks proudly holding up his pottery. Photo: John Barkiple

Local performers, artisans, DIY engineers, chefs and crafty innovators come together for the 10th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival at the Gallivan Center. This-three day weekend, Aug. 10–12, will encapsulate the craftsmanship that our city cultivates while celebrating Utah’s movers and shakers. Spread across the breadth of these pages are peeks into some of what this year’s DIY Festival will feature. Bring your family, friends, lovers to enjoy what this year’s festival has to offer! Visit craftlakecity.com to learn more about this community enriching event!


Travis Sudweeks (roselinepottery.comstarted creating pottery when he signed up for ceramics class as a high-school freshman. He hasn’t stopped since. “The moment I touched clay, it was transformative, and I was hooked,” he says. But it wasn’t until about two years ago that he finally decided to transition pottery from a part-time hobby into a full-time gig. Enter Rose Line Pottery.

Sudweeks creates simplistic, minimalist-style dishware, vases and other home goods with clean lines and cool colors. He also does commissions, like the urn he recently created when a customer’s beloved dog passed away. He aims to keep himself in business—without pricing out potential customers. “I love knowing my pottery is being used by many people and not just a select few that can afford it,” he says. “That’s why I price my work affordably.”

Honing his pottery skills and design ethos has been an evolutionary process for Sudweeks. “I didn’t understand design for the longest time,” he says. “Glazing usually turned out ugly. It wasn’t until I became a little older, and started traveling, and even
looking at real

architecture and design that I got a real sense of what style I liked.” Sudweeks’ style has been shaped by hours spent throwing pieces in the studio. He gleans inspiration from nature and his travels—and also his dreams. “Sometimes I dream of pieces, or pieces will appear in my mind from out of nowhere, and I have to make them.”

Sudweeks relishes the opportunity to practice a craft he loves full-time. “For me, creating art is very freeing and, like any art, acts like a big middle finger to the corporate world,” he says. Running the studio is a balancing act for both Sudweeks and his wife, who manages the marketing, shipping and sales. “I am in the studio eight to 10 hours every day,” he says, “making pottery, taking photos, making videos, updating the website, Instagram and the Etsy shop.” At DIY Fest, Sudweeks will share the products of his long hours spent in the studio. He’s looking forward to meeting new customers and growing his business—stop by to chat!

Murdock comfortably posed in his studio. Photo: John Barkiple

Local performers, artisans, DIY engineers, chefs and crafty innovators come together for the 10th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival at the Gallivan Center. This-three day weekend, Aug. 10–12, will encapsulate the craftsmanship that our city cultivates while celebrating Utah’s movers and shakers. Spread across the breadth of these pages are peeks into some of what this year’s DIY Festival will feature. Bring your family, friends, lovers to enjoy what this year’s festival has to offer! Visit craftlakecity.com to learn more about this community enriching event!


Expect bedraggled teeth, walking eyeballs, dancing skulls and other fun and fantastical oddities from the depths of Mike Murdock’s (ultrasnazzy.bigcartel.combrain. “I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have some form of a creative outlet in my life, my brain would explode and leave a pile of colorful goo on the carpet, so in that sense art is a bit therapeutic,” says Murdock. “I also just have this strong and weird desire to make stuff. Even if no one ever wanted to buy anything I had made ever again, I’d still just have to do it for some kind of personal gratification.” Luckily, Murdock’s quirky, colorful art—paintings, books, doodles, murals, T-shirts and anything else Murdock feels like working on in the moment—attracts customers who are attracted to his high-voltage, self-deprecating style.

Murdock’s a dad now, so his creative process also functions as an act of escape. “[I’m] usually sneaking out to my garage with candy and beer after I’ve put my girls to bed to listen to music and make a mess,” he says. “I usually try to wear socks, though—there’s spiders out there, you know.” But his kids provide inspiration, too. “I love watching my girls draw or paint stuff and hear them talk about it. It’s super inspiring to see how their little gears turn. A lot of ideas I get come from interacting and adventuring with my crew.” Other sources of inspiration include skateboarding, nature, life, death, corndogs, magic, outer space … “you know, the good stuff.” (Murdock notes, “I don’t really eat hot dogs, though. I just think they’re weird and funny.”)

Into the weird and funny? Check out Murdock’s booth at the DIY Fest for laugh and a smile, and maybe take something home to hang up—where Murdock hopes you “can walk past it on a daily basis and derive some stokage from it.”

Freelancers Anonymous

Damn These Heels Film Festival
Director: Sonia Sebastian

What happens when a millennial gets stuck in an unfulfilling office job? She takes it upon herself to create a startup, of course—but not without some twists and turns along the way.

Billie (Lisa Cordileone) is tired of being treated like a cog in the wheel just to pay the rent. Freelancers Anonymous opens with a monologue as a beleaguered, pantsuited Billie sits outside her office building, pondering her situation: “Work hard. Play hard. Push through. Buckle up. But I’m not going up. I’m just going in a circle. Like a hamster. Or a squirrel. I’m a rodent,” she concludes. There’s gotta be something better than this—and Billie’s going to get it, no matter what it takes.

After a cannabis-related mishap leads Billie to quit in dramatic fashion, girl has got to figure out a plan. After all, she has a wedding to pay for. So Billie hauls herself to her local Freelancers Anonymous group, a ragtag band of similarly jobless and job-searching ladies—plus Joel. (Every group needs a Joel, right?) Although she doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot with her fellow freelancers, Billie has a lightbulb moment that brings her back to the group the next day with donuts, apologies and an idea to harness the freelancers’ untapped talents—an app that will connect freelancers with businesses who need their services.

Meanwhile, Billie’s jobless state is causing tension in her relationship. Gayle (Natasha Negovanlis), a voice actor and internet cabernet wine reviewer, threatens to call off the wedding. “They’re not unemployed, they’re just freelancers,” protests Billie, but when a literal bag of startup money chances its way into Billie’s life by way of Billie’s skeptical teammate, she decides on a new course of action: Use the money to produce paychecks and lie about the startup until it actualizes itself.

Behind Gayle’s back, Billie concocts an elaborate plan to get married and launch her business—all on the same day, in the same place. She just has to figure out how to do two things at the same time. Enter the montage—woman shushing the alarm, flying through city streets via bike, persisting doggedly to meet her business goals—until at last, the big day arrives.

Will Billie be able to resolve the tangled web of lies she’s woven, start a business, find investors, and get married to her one true love? You can probably guess the answer.

Freelancers Anonymous is a lighthearted take on the gig economy. Just take the tagline: “Because your day job sucks ass.” Featuring an LGBTQ leading couple and a diverse cast of characters, the movie attempts to address some of the hot-button topics of the millennial generation. Although the plot mainly skims the surface of the problems that affect today’s workers—and is infused with more than a few deus ex machina resolutions—it’s a quick-paced, amusing way to spend 80 minutes.

Writers Lisa Cordileone, who plays Billie, and Amy Dellagiarino conceived the idea for the movie when they too realized they hated their day jobs. They connected with director Sonia Sebastian to create the film. But Freelancers Anonymous is more than a movie title—it’s also a real, live start-up in progress that aims to offer visibility to women and LGBTQ folk working in STEM industries. Viewers should relish this feel-good film for what it is: a way to support women writers, producers and directors in the film industry, bring visibility to women and LGBTQ actors and freelancers, and get acquainted with the plight of many unemployed and under-employed millennials—that is, if they aren’t already one themselves. –Naomi Clegg


Showtime:

Sunday, July 22 // 4:15 p.m. // Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center

Read more of SLUG’s film coverage of the 2018 Damn These Heels Film Festival.

Photo: Matthew Hunter

“I remember getting back from a trip last year,” says David Clark, one of the two creative forces behind the upcoming documentary series We Bike You. “I got back from traveling and I felt a little bit of grief or depression from being back from my vacation and wanting to be on the road again—wanting to be discovering again. That feeling of loss, combined with our creative ideas, fueled the notion that we could get back out on the road.”

Clark and creative partner Daniel Foster Smith are currently shooting for the docuseries, which explores the urban-cycling experience city by city. To capture film of people riding bikes, the pair and their team—which includes camera operator Sam Garfield and multi-talented bike builder and fix-it man James Lyons—have rigged up a special shooting platform: a bike with an attached trailer on which a person can sit and capture Foster Smith and Clark as they ride around the city, interviewing their documentary subjects—on bicycle—about cycling in that city.

“We have a lot of creative irons in the fire at any time,” says Clark. The pair is also working on a fictional, animated series, and previously completed a short documentary for VideoWest. Foster Smith says, “For us, it’s about a creative practice. Just to be doing and be creating is the goal. That’s why doing this as a series and not just a documentary appeals to us more—because it’s a lifestyle of documenting and meeting new people.” Both Clark and Foster Smith demonstrate a clear desire to immerse themselves in creative energy and connect with others, and those forces, Foster Smith says, are what spurred the creation of the project.

Like many kids, Clark and Foster Smith both grew up riding bikes. So did Nkenna Onwuzuruoha, or Kenna, one of the series’ subjects and the 2016 and 2017 Women’s First Place winner of SLUG’s SLUG Cat alleycat race. All three describe growing into a love of biking after moving to—or back to—Salt Lake City. Foster Smith’s bike renaissance came about four and a half years ago, when he moved back and tried the city’s GREENbike program, which is where he discovered a love for group rides. For Clark, bicycling was “access to the world for a kid like me in my hometown,” he says. That sense of freedom disappeared when he got his license, and he only rediscovered the freedom that comes from relying on a bike when he realized his car was parked in his driveway more than 90 percent of the time. “I found myself resisting the idea of driving and wondered if I could commit to just walking and cycling everywhere I was going, so I got rid of the car, and now I just get around by bicycle,” Clark says.

Photo: Matthew Hunter
Photo: Matthew Hunter

A Georgia native, Onwuzuruoha says she bought her first bike while in college in Chicago. It was a cheap Target bike that Onwuzuruoha used indiscriminately. “I did everything the intermediate and the expert cyclists tell you not to do because I felt that was the most secure and safe thing to do,” she says, noting that she was a sidewalk biker. But when she moved to Salt Lake City to volunteer for AmeriCorps VISTA, Onwuzuruoha picked up a bike from the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective—“a little, dinky, old thing”—and that’s when she started to really get into cycling. “Meeting people here as I was getting acclimated to the city, I was able to learn about proper bicycling—taking time to ride on the road, being vigilant, learning some bike maintenance through the Bicycle Collective. I started accumulating bikes.”

A display of several road bikes are hung from the staircase in Onwuzuruoha’s inviting apartment. She says cycling has been a transformative way to make a place in unfamiliar Salt Lake. “The majority of my friends I’ve met through cycling, so I’ve been able to gain knowledge—share knowledge—about how to cycle, where to cycle, things about cycling culture,” she says. When Onwuzuruoha’s not working as an instructor at Westminster College and SLCC, she’s either at the gym, the grocery store or cycling around. Most recently, you can find her cycling with Salty Spokes, a group of female and gender-nonconforming cyclists in Salt Lake founded by Esther Meroño Baro, which has gone under “different names and iterations since its founding in 2008,” and “currently practices a ‘leaderful’ model (shifting roles and responsibilities among women, trans and femme riders).”

Clark indicates that connecting with people who share their urban-cycling experience, like Onwuzuruoha, and then sharing that connection via video, is a compelling motivation for the series. “We want to paint a picture of Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden, Amsterdam, Portland,” he says. “We want people to see the city looks different when you’re on a cycle.” So far, the two have filmed footage for episodes in Salt Lake City and Ogden. Up next are Berlin and Amsterdam, where Foster Smith will shoot for the project. Each video in the series will tell a short story about cycling in the city: “stories about ingenuity and creative bicycle use,” Foster Smith says. Viewers can look forward to seeing Onwuzuruoha cruise the streets with Salty Spokes, watching James remodel a house and transport material completely by bike, and finding out how a mother in Amsterdam transports her three kids and household supplies with a bike and cargo trailer. They hope the series will capture and spread the joy of cycling.

You can find We Bike You on Facebook and on Instagram at @webikeyou, and as We Bike You Series on YouTube. And if you are a woman or gender-nonconforming cyclist, connect with Onwuzuruoha by attending the next Salty Spokes meetup. You can find out more on their Instagram account, @saltyspokes, which Onwuzuruoha manages.

Victoria Petro-Eschler teaches a group of students at Jackson Elementary via the Salty Cricket Composers Collective's K–12 program. Photo: Kathryn Jones-Porter

Looking to liven up your Thursday evening? Attend A SWEET Celebration of SALTY Cricket on April 5, a benefit for local arts nonprofit Salty Cricket Composers Collective. The evening will be a bit offbeat and a bit whimsical, just like the organization. In addition to sampling treats and handcrafted cocktails from a dozen local sweets purveyors, attendees will listen to a performance by the students in the Jackson Elementary El Sistema program and music by other local performers. The price of your ticket will support Salty Cricket’s programs for young performers and local composers.

Salty Cricket Composers Collective is a local arts nonprofit founded in 2008 by Crystal Young-Otterstrom. It is now helmed by Executive Director Victoria Petro-Eschler and her husband, artistic director Nathaniel Eschler. Petro-Eschler elucidates the origins of the program, its metamorphosis throughout her tenure as Executive Director, and what she hopes to accomplish as the organization continues to grow.

Salty Cricket is strongly rooted in Western and contemporary classical music. As Petro-Eschler and I sit in the hallway to begin our interview, Nathaniel begins a lesson on composer Aaron Copland. Petro-Eschler says, “A lot of people think that composition is something that was done by candlelight when people wore powdered wigs. Composers are composing right now.” Kids in Salty Cricket’s K–12 program learn that composition is ongoing—and accessible to anyone. Salty Cricket furthers their mission through two main activities—their educational outreach program, which I am lucky enough to witness in action, and their concert development arm, which works with community ensembles to provide performance opportunities for a group of Utah-based composers. 

Though Salty Cricket has been around for 10 years, its educational program is only two and a half years old. “When we launched, we had enough money to be reckless and say, ‘Let’s do it,’ but not enough money to make it to the end of the year—and we made it!” says Petro-Eschler. The program has grown from 20 students its first year to almost 70, and now employs five staff members. The program runs 42 weeks a year, 16 hours a week.

The program is an orchestra-based setup built on the principles of the internationally recognized El Sistema model. Regarding the program’s aims, Petro-Eschler says, “With the positive social change we’re growing through music, we are giving these kids the chance to significantly interact with each other and have really significant cross-cultural exchange because the orchestra and music doesn’t care what your last name is or what you eat after school or any of that.”

El Sistema was founded in Venezuela 43 years ago, as slums and social problems began proliferating in tandem with accelerating wealth. “The idea is you can avoid negative social problems by involving kids in a rigorous activity like an orchestra,” says Petro-Eschler. Students in the program are put in a group orchestra from Day One, allowing students to develop their musical skills in a community setting, regardless of whether they have the money for private lessons. But the program aims to inculcate more than a love of music. “I love music, but I hope that I’m shaping future engineers, future lawyers, and future politicians, and doctors and accountants, and people who will understand that one, being part of a community and doing your best is important; two, creative problem-solving is possibly one of the most important things you can employ; and three, in order to achieve excellence, you have to demand a lot out of yourself.”

Photo: Kathryn Jones-Porter
Utah Symphony Violist Whittney Thomas sharing her knowledge and the richness of contemporary classical music in the El Sistema program. Photo: Kathryn Jones-Porter

The program’s aims are incredibly inspiring—but how do the Salty Cricket staff convince kids to get involved? I don’t know if I could’ve been convinced to practice cello on my Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Petro-Escher says there are two overlapping elements. “There is, on one level, just the self-gratification of learning something really hard—not everyone can do this, and that sets you apart,” she says. “But just as important is the gratification of contributing to the success of a group. “The orchestra operates just like any other community. If one person is slacking off, they can ruin the whole thing for everyone. But if we’re all working together and working well, we can achieve things that are really notable.”

The organization has taken many factors into consideration when planning its program, and the thought Petro-Eschler has put into each strategic decision is obvious when I talk to her. The educational program is located at Jackson Elementary to “eliminate barriers to entry,” she says. The school is a Title I school where almost every student qualifies for free or reduced lunch. “We center ourselves where transportation tends to be the hardest issue. We’re on a TRAX line so people can reach us by public transit.”

The educational program has more than tripled in size since its start and continues to grow, but it isn’t the only arm of the program that’s expanding. In the past, Salty Cricket has coordinated three to four performances of works by local composers each year, but in the upcoming year, they plan on sponsoring nine performances by nine different local ensembles. “We are also growing opportunities,” says Petro-Eschler. “We have a colloquium coming up; we’re looking at the possibility of doing composer exchanges. We’re getting Utah on the map.”

The organization has expanded the number of Utah-based composers it works with. This year, they are supporting more young composers and, in particular, more young-women composers than in the past. “Everyone always says music is for everyone, but they don’t realize there are actually huge gender disparities in music,” Petro-Eschler says. “Out of 150 national orchestras, five are conducted by women. Female composers represent 17 percent of the publication output. For us to see 16-year-old female composers showing up and being performed in our concerts, that’s a huge deal!” One of their most advanced performers, Petro-Eschler says, is a 13-year-old girl who just got waitlisted for the National Youth Orchestra.

Salty Cricket’s upcoming benefit event celebrates 10 years of growth and expansion. Along with the successful launch of the El Sistema program, “We are celebrating 10 consecutive years of performances by Utah-based composers,” Petro-Eschler says. Proceeds will directly support Salty Cricket’s programs—and help them continue along their upward trajectory.

Compositions by Salty Cricket composers will be played by nine local ensembles in the next year. To get updates on upcoming performances and watch videos of Salty Cricket’s music being performed, visit their website at saltycricket.org or follow them on Facebook at Salty Cricket Composers Collective. In addition to their 10thanniversary event, A SWEET Celebration of SALTY Cricket, the group hosts community concerts once a month on Saturdays. Their next Saturday with the Symphony will be on April 21 at 11:30 a.m. at Mary Jackson Elementary. It is free, and community members are welcome to attend.