The Utah Arts Festival: Tolstoy Would Approve

Posted June 26, 2012 in

Sonny Bonoho. Photo: Megan Kennedy

According to Russian author and beard enthusiast Leo Tolstoy, art “is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” Judging from wide-eyed children with dragon-painted faces, and artists grinning despite 100-degree heat, Tolstoy might be on to something. From June 21-24, Downtown Library Square hosted some 80,000 patrons and over 200 artists from all over the country in an event that celebrates artistic creativity and its influence on the community.

Though this year marked the 36th Utah Arts Festival, the festival coordinators still managed to find new and exciting attractions for patrons to enjoy. One of the most interesting––and slightly terrifying––additions to the festival this year was the Dragon Knight Stilt Theater. If you spotted one of these stilt walkers dressed as a psychedelic dragonfly and were concerned about heat-induced hallucinations, don’t worry. Everyone else saw them, too.

The festival also featured an entire section dedicated to urban arts. In addition to distributing custom-made hats and spray paintings, vendors in the urban arts area thoughtfully provided some graffiti-friendly walls for patrons who have always wanted to tag a building. It was interesting to see how the kaleidoscopic shapes and colors evolved from day to day—like a Rorschach test sponsored by Krylon. If musical collaborations were more your thing, Spy Hop Productions sponsored the Found Sound Project, which provided instruments like xylophones, guitars and ukuleles for patrons to show off their musical chops. The music was later remixed and recorded to create unique songs.

When it came time to get out of the sun and enjoy a cool beverage, the ideal place to be was in front of one of the many stages that the festival had dedicated to musicians and performers. Over the course of a few hours, patrons could enjoy a wide range of musical genres. From the bluegrass-inspired tunes of The Folka Dots to Thai hip-hop artist Sonny Bonoho, the festival featured something to please a variety of musical tastes.

Audience participation was also a large part of this year’s festival. Patrons could stop by the Verizon Wireless booth to cast votes for their favorite visual artist. The artists who received the most votes were then invited to return next year without having to pay booth fees. It was a great way to show your support for a particular artist.

The vendors at this year’s festival didn’t make that process easy. In addition to Dave Borba, Natalie Wall, Kellie Murphy and Fred Conlon, who were kind enough to chat with me about their festival experience, I really liked the cartoonish style of Justin Hillgrove—his painting of Jawas carrying off Darth Vader was both adorable and nerdy. Then there was Kevin Eslinger, who put a slightly creepy perspective on characters like Batman and Jack Skellington.

While the Arts Festival is an excellent place to build a collection of great pieces of art, it’s also a place to gain genuine inspiration. It’s hard to spend time with people who have invested so much of themselves in their work and not feel like abandoning the day-to-day routine to pursue some kind of creative inkling. There is an unmistakable passion that radiates from each artist in attendance, and it’s infectious. Even patrons that don’t end up leaving with a unique work of art will leave with a renewed appreciation of beauty and its ability to unite a community—even if it’s only for a few days.

For more photos, check out our galleries here and here.

Sonny Bonoho. Photo: Megan Kennedy Dragon Night Stilt Theatre. Photo: Megan Kennedy The badasses from non-profit Heroes Inc. take a quick crime-fighting break. Photo: Megan Kennedy The art of Fred Conlin looks on at Round 2 of the Poetry Slam. Photo: Megan Kennedy