Backstage at the 2024 Utah Arts Festival: Numerous fresh highlights for the 48th edition, which runs June 28-30

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Utah Review begins its preview coverage today of the 48th Utah Arts Festival, which will be held June 28-30 (noon to 11 p.m. on June 28-30) on the Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City. As this is the state’s largest multidisciplinary arts and cultural gathering each year, The Utah Review considers the Utah Arts Festival a worthy arts and cultural barometer for the state, as this curtain raiser indicates. For more information about this year’s festival, see the Utah Arts Festival website and ticket information. Follow The Utah Review this week with previews of several programs, artists and performers.


Going with the theme of The Great Utah Get-Together, staff organizers and volunteer coordinators for the 48th Utah Arts Festival, which opens June 28 at the downtown civic plaza comprising Washington Square and Library Square, are capitalizing on the festival’s key strengths, bringing back a street theater program that always has been popular with crowds and balancing the representation of well-established artists and the influx of a 21st century generation of creative producers who continuously are stretching and expanding avenues of creative expression that swap out genre and conventions of style for fresh multidisciplinary and hybrid forms. There are 31 new artists in the festival’s Emerging Artists initiative, including those in film, visual arts,musicians and literary artists (Look for The Utah Review summary of these artists this week).

As last year, thanks to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), festival goers can use their UAF tickets as their transit fare. The Library TRAX light-rail station is located directly across from the festival’s main entrance. 

2023: 100 Artists/ONE Image, Mason Fetzer. Photo: Les Roka.

The festival’s multifaceted slates reflect just how broadly the slate can be when it comes to representing artists. In 2022 alone, according to numbers compiled by the Utah Cultural Alliance, the state’s cultural industry directly or indirectly supported approximately 8.4% of all Utah jobs, generated an estimated $477.4 million in direct tax revenue, and generated $6.8 billion in GDP, which represented 2.6% of Utah’s total GDP. The motion picture and sound recording sector added the greatest number of jobs from 2021 to 2022 (1,970), while the TV, radio, and social media broadcasting sector experienced the greatest decline in jobs (-1,000). The motion picture and sound recording sector experienced the greatest year-over growth (35.5%), followed by publishing).


Before the pandemic, street theater, roaming stiltwalkers, and aerial artists were part of the festival experience and audiences scrambled whenever there was a performance either along the south-facing glass wall of the City Library or along the crescent arch. Voodoo Productions is coordinating this year’s return to street theater on a significant scale, featuring like aerialists, sway pole artists and stilt walkers along with ballerinas, floating violinist and ballerinas, revolving wheel performance and poetry pros throughout all three days on the festival campus.

Voodoo Productions.


The scope of the festival is larger in several ways this year. This includes 175 local, national and internationally known performers on six stages, a juried international short film program, a multidisciplinary Art Yard for kids that includes a comprehensive focus on the Great Salt Lake this year, the largest Artist Marketplace in UAF history with 187 artists including 54 new artists and 72 from Utah (Look for previews of featured artists this week at The Utah Review).

The featured exhibition in the Library Square Gallery on the fourth floor of the City Library will be Utah All-State High School Art Show, which is coordinated by the Springville Museum of Art in conjunction with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. This is the 52nd show, making it among the nation’s largest and longest-running student art shows of its kind.

The Springville Museum has been a major partner in the state’s most prominent platform for these young artists. As previously noted in The Utah Review, as Utah’s first art museum, Springville’s initial collection grew as local high school students purchased paintings and sculpture through an ‘Art Queen’ festival. Each student paid a penny to vote and the student with the most votes was named queen, with the funds used to purchase art for the museum. High school students led efforts to put on a Parisian-style salon exhibition, beginning in the 1920s and continuing annually each spring. The current version of the show began in 1971 and this year’s salon show marks the 100th anniversary.

Seo Jungmin.


This year’s festival offers a range of musical styles from funk to indie-pop, house to R&B, and more. The headliners include Steely Dead and Korean artist Seo Jungmin on Friday night, Cool Cool Cool and Andy Frasco and The U.N. on Saturday night, and The Plastic Cherries with future.exboyfriend on Sunday night. Also notable, drumming prodigy 14-year-old Yoyoka will be performing with her family band on Sunday night. The Festival’s Urban Arts area includes 20+ DJs and musicians as well

Based in Denver, Steely Dead is a four-member band, appropriately named for how it fuses the music of Grateful Dead and Steely Dan, two of the most respected groups from the classic rock music era. Breaking genre boundaries in its lo-fi fusion of funk, house and R&B, Cool Cool Cool, which formed in 2022, has been noted for its string vocals, a fabulous horn section and the foundations of synthesizer keyboards and their rhythm section. 

Cool Cool Cool also has performed as support for Andy Frasco and The U.N. Frasco, with his roots in pop punk,  started in the industry when he was a teen, working for Drive-Thru Records and Capitol labels. He formed his group when he was 19 and the band has consistently played more than 250 shows annually. The band’s Wash, Rinse, Repeat, was released on his own label, Fun Machine Records.  The album represented a creative collaboration with members of Dashboard Confessional, 3oh!3, Doom Flamingo and AWOLnation.

The Plastic Cherries

Started as a modest old-school project in Salt Lake City where Shelby and Joe Maddock recorded songs that evoked glam and soft rock, shoe gaze and other idiosyncratic inspirations, The Plastic Cherries turned these home efforts into a debut album, Sunshine, which is available on vinyl and cassette. The Maddocks added a pianist, drummer and bassist to make their retro pop feel sound refreshing in an age where overproduced effects and sampling have been de riguer.  Their latest album highlights collaborations with Salt Lake City creatives in the studio, including producer Denney Fuller of The Mellons and guest mixing from Chris Cohen. Meanwhile, future.exboyfriend, the creative solo project of Tyler Harris, has a similar home-grown aesthetic in his electro-pop music and many know Harris as lead singer for indie-pop group Mojave Nomads. His solo debut, Party in a Lonely Head, dropped in 2020.

Festival headliners have typically represented an eclectic and cosmopolitan musical landscape but there are some additions this year to magnify the point. From Korea, Seo Jungmin is a master of the gayageum (가야금), a plucked chordophone that is similar to zither-like instruments such as the koto in Japan and the guzheng in China. Seo’s instrument has 25 strings (traditional gayageums have 12 silk strings while modern instruments have the large number of strings). An instrument that dates to at least the sixth century in Korea, the gayageum is at the core of Korean traditional classical music and the piano is to the Western musical foundation. 

Inspired by Korea’s Gut, a ceremony of shaman tradition from the  Jeolla-do region, Seo has composed music of the instrument and her albums and concert projects have been featured at festivals around the world but also have received major awards and honors in Korea. One of her most prominent projects, One, My Utopia!.premiered at the 2022 CINARS Biennale and was selected as PAMS Choice at the Performing Arts Market Seoul in 2021. 

Many festival goers also will be mesmerized by drummer Yoyoka Soma, 14, who will be performing with her family as well. When Soma, born and raised in Hokkaido, was seen jn YouTube videos playing the drums at the age of seven, she rocketed to global recognition. She now lives in Oalkland, California, with her family who moved to the States two years ago. She has been attending the Oakland School of the Arts and has been learning not just rock drumming techniques but also those for jazz and the blues. As a KQED feature noted, “Soma has jammed with Oakland singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito, whose soulful songs that combine blues, roots rock and country have inspired her to learn more about genre-blending music. Her friends at school have introduced her to an array of hip-hop and rap, where the art of sampling and revamping older songs and beats is generative and full of possibility. Music has offered her a new way of expanding her relationships, not only with new friends and fellow musicians, but with Oakland and herself.”

The internationally acclaimed Salt Lake Electric Ensemble, which has periodically performed at the festival, returns this year and will feature synthesizer arrangements of two Philip Glass pieces: Opening from Glassworks and his String Quartet no. 2. The ensemble will also perform the original score developed for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s premiere of Daniel Charon’s Storyograph for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

Started in 2009, the local ensemble produced for Orange Mountain Music, Glass’ recording label, a 2018 recording of the composer’s Music with Changing Parts, realized with multiple laptop computers and Ableton Live software, along with acoustic instruments. It was a major achievement for SLEE, which already had been acclaimed for its performances and recording of another classic of minimalism, Terry Riley’s In C.

Storyograph, Daniel Charon, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Photo Credit: Stuart Ruckman.


This year and likely going into future editions of the festival, which will mark its 50th anniversary in 2026, festival goers will see some groups that have been mainstays every year (Repertory Dance Theatre, for example, which has appeared in every festival except one, to date) be rotated periodically over a cycle of several years so that performing slots on the various stages are given to up-and-coming groups and performers. Certainly, with dance’s exceptionally diverse and extensive place in Utah performing arts, among the dance groups appearing in the festival will be Fem Dance Company; Salt Contemporary Dance and Chitrakaavya Dance, which specializes in Bharatanatyam, a South Indian classical form (a group led by Srilatha Singh, a mathematics professor who specializes in three-manifold topology and who was trained in her dance specialization by eminent gurus in her homeland).

As just one example of how independent dance institutions have flourished, Fem Dance Company’s November 2023 premiere of Hear Her, choreographed by Alicia Ross, was an enlightening, sensitively structured choreographic contemplation. Ross opened up a personal history of sexual abuse and in collaborating with the 13 dancers who performed, the work reveals a path for strengthening and nurturing an individual’s capacity to not only heal but also to rejuvenate their expressions of love, confidence and resilience.

Yoyoka Family Band

Two dance institutions which celebrated milestone anniversaries this past season will perform: The University of Utah’s Tanner Dance Program’s Children’s Dance Theatre, which celebrated 75 years and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, which marked its 60th anniversary, Ririe-Woodbury dancers will present several excerpts from recent repertoire including Storyograph, by Daniel Charon, company artistic director; Scenes for an Ending (2023) by Raja Feather Kelly and two works from former company artistic directors that were set for the anniversary season: A Century, A Day (by Keith Johnson and Chapter of Being by Charlotte Boye-Christensen. The company also will feature its newest dancers in their first public performance with Ririe-Woodbury: Luke Dakota Zander and Nicholas Elizondo. 

Meanwhile, 1520 Arts, which has been the anchor residential arts organization on The Round Stage, will return with 3 v. 3 battles, which will make the audience experience more exciting and elucidating about the art of music and rap battles and the spontaneous art form of ciphers. What adds to the spontaneity of the battles is that the teams are put together randomly so that they have to use their instinct to sync up and collaborate if they want the bragging rights of winning. 1520 Arts celebrated its 15th anniversary this past year.

Steely Dead.


The biggest Urban Arts program in festival history offers an extensive format, highlighting art and music that epitomizes the wider culture of street, graffiti and public art. There is no doubt that Urban Arts’ presence at the festival over the last 11 years  has inspired and fostered the growth in large public mural art projects, as well as becoming a force in highlighting multimedia visual and musical artists whose works and performances are frequently found in galleries and venues around Salt Lake City. The slate of 23 musicians will bring live music from EDM (electronic dance music), trap, house, R&B, hip-hop, breakbeats and other genres. There will be a fan favorite, Fat Cap Hat Gallery where patrons can purchase a made-to-order graffiti-style hat ($40).

Featured artist for the venue is Bill Louis, a Fiji-native mural artist whose work has been part of several major urban centers in the western U.S. , including Salt Lake City. His influences come from various styles, such as West Coast graffiti art, and artists including Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. A member of PEAU (Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah) a P.I.K.2.A.R. group. he specializes in a variety of forms of art including, acrylic and oil paints, watercolor, ink, aerosol, sculpture, music production and digital graphic arts..

Another feature will be The Dichroic Skull, an illuminated art installation skull made out of metal, which was created by Brody Izm.

Bill Louis.


The  extensive Literary Arts program marks its 30th year at the festival, Poetry slams have become one of the most popular offerings at the Utah Arts Festival, to the extent that the festival venue could launch its own regional competition. There will be three major slam competitions on the WordFest Stage: The Youth Individual Slam (June 29, 7 p.m.), The Adult Individuals (June 28, 8:30 p.m and finals on June 30, 7 p.m.) and the Team Invitational (June 30, 8:30 p.m.). Regarding the art of poetry slams, while on the surface it seems spontaneous and extemporaneous, in fact, it involves a lot of strategy of sequencing as well as rehearsing, memorizing and capitalizing on strengths of delivery, rhythm and cadence and topical expertise.

Among highlighted performers in Literary Arts, either on the Wordfest or The Round stage, will be Evan Van Leuven (June 29, 6:15 p.m., The Round), a Utah spoken word performer and poet who won the festival’s Youth Individual Poetry Slam the last two years and returns this year to defend the title.. They will also coach the Kerns High School Poetry Slam Team this year for the 2024 UAF Team Poetry Slam. Also returning is Sammi Walker, (June 28, 7:10 p.m., Wordfest Stage), who is the director of the award-winning Salt City Slam, and is a member of The Butterfly Effect Poetry Slam Team and one of the top internationally ranked poets. She will compete in the 2024 UAF Individual Poetry Slam, Team Slam with Butterfly Effect and will host the Salt City Open Mic on June 29 on the Wordfest Stage.

Friday, June,2023 : Utah Arts Festival Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

Another returning slam champion is Zachary Kluckman from Albuquerque (June 30, 6:05 p.m., Wordfest Stage). Kluckman is the 2023 UAF Individual Poetry Slam Champion and is director of the Chicharra Poetry Slam Festival in Albuquerque. Ms.AyeVee (June 28, 6:05 p.m., Wordfest Stage) directs Beyond the Neon Poetry, which is based in Las Vegas. As the festival’s literary arts coordinator for the last three years and a recognized TED Talks participant, she will host this year’s UAF Team Slam and will lead a June 30 poetry workshop at the Community Writing Center on the Library Plaza.

From Visalia California, Michael A Jasso (June 30, 3:35 p.m., Wordfest Stage) is director of the California based Poetry Organization, Loud Mouth Poetry Jam and has been a featured literary artist at virtually  every major poetry slam festival across the country. He also has been the UAF Poetry Slam Coordinator for the past 2 years.


As in previous years, there will be workshops at the Salt Lake Community College’s Community Writing Center. And, the Wasatch IronPen Literary Marathon returns for the 17th time, as coordinated by the Salt Lake Community College Community Writing Center (CWC). 

This writing competition is open to adult and youth categories in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Participants will receive their visual prompts at the CWC offices (Library Square, Suite 8), located on the festival grounds, at 6 p.m. on June 28. They will have 24 hours to complete their submissions. Winners will read their work on the final day of the festival at the Wordfest Stage. See the CWC link for more information about the competition and prizes. 

Friday, June,2023 : Utah Arts Festival Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

What is new this year are three visual arts workshops, coordinated by Workshop SLC, about DIY Paperback Journals, Watercolor Techniques, and Abstract Ink Painting. For information see this link

This year, the KidsFest Art Yard’s theme is the Great Salt Lake, which also will include participants folding 10,000 origami pelicans. 

Another edition of the popular 100 Artists/ONE image project returns this year.  Mason Fetzer, who has designed the project based on ideas from color theory that he has consistently tested over the years, normally prefers having those festival patrons who believe they have no skills to paint a tile because it emphasizes the project’s community spirit.

This will be the 11th time for the installation, which comprises 100 plywood tiles in the 20-foot by 20-foot mural. Visitors will be invited to paint a tile, as soon as the festival opens at noon on June 28. If past years are a reliable predictor, the installation will be completed by early evening on June 29. Once a part of the Urban Arts venue near the crescent archway of the City Library, the installation is now housed near the City-County Building on Washington Square, close to where the Art Yard is located for kids’ activities.

Friday, June,2023 : Utah Arts Festival Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto


The 21st edition of the internationally acclaimed Fear No Film program returns with 75 films in 14 program screenings, as comprehensive in scope as in the shorts program of the Sundance Film Festival. The screenings are accessible to the public, even those who do not have a festival ticket, and will take place in the City Library Auditorium (Look later this week for The Utah Review preview of 22 short films that should be on everyone’s radar). . 

Among the elite short films on this year’s slate is Ninety Five Senses, an animated film from Jared and Jerusha Hess, who are well known for.their viral comedy hit Napoleon Dynamite. This  exceptional animated short was nominated for the Academy Award this year for best short film.  The film was made with the Salt Lake Film Society’s MAST program. MAST provides grants, training and mentorship to animators and filmmakers, with a special emphasis on projects that change minds and change the world. Its program includes a fellowship, labs, mentorship, career advocacy, networking, contests, productions and funding. Others include The Masterpiece, which won this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s grand jury prize for best short film; Before the Pandemic and War, There Were Bedbugs and Love!, which won best documentary short film at the Boston Shorts Festival, The Steak, the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival AGBO Fellowship Award Winner, and  Fár. a 2023 Cannes Nominee for the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film.

Ninety-Five Senses, Jared and Jerusha Hess.


Making it easier and quicker for festival goers to navigate the comprehensive scope of the event’s programs over three days, Third Sun’s Jocelyn Kearl is encouraging the public to download the Utah Arts Festival app, which is available as free for both iOS and Android users. The app puts everything that typically was available in the printed guide right at anyone’s fingertips. The 14 buttons on the landing screen take users to categories including tickets and passes, searchable schedules for the six stages, performers,  films, literary events, workshops, the Emerging Artists program, activities for children, food and beverage options, additional vendors, a festival map and a photo booth for users to capture their experiences with their mobile device camera. The search function gives users the opportunity to build their festival schedule and star their favorite artists, performers and activities. Artist and performer listings include links to their website and social media, so that app users can share, bookmark and have on hand whenever they need it. 

There are more than 50 coupons available for food, beverages and art. Some artists are offering substantial discounts while others have free stickers. Some food deals include BOGO offers, free items with purchase and generous discounts as well.There are buttons to click for donating to UAF or for signing up to volunteer at a venue. Volunteer options are listed, including how many slots remain available.    

Andy Frasco and The U.N.


Between 60% and 65% of the organization’s annual revenue comes from the festival, which costs a bit more than $2 million to stage. The average staging cost for the festival per person is $34, according to Dunsmore, and with post-pandemic inflation rates, that staging cost has increased by more than 25% since the two years immediately before the pandemic. Note that a technical stage crew member could command $50 or more per hour. Considering production coordinators, managers, stage assistants, security, build and strike teams, sound engineers, projectionists, etc., hiring qualified individuals can run between $150 and $600 per day. 

The UAF year-round staff numbers just three full-time employees while some 45 coordinators come on board in the months leading up to the festival to formalize and complete the programming for the three-day event. Dunsmore said that in addition to the festival, it has become clearer that year-round programming of events that are affiliated with the festival’s cultural mission will become more frequent.This includes artist studio events, screenings of Fear No Film shorts and other activities related to the various program venues associated with the festival.  

Corporate sponsors are critical but festival organizers also ensure that sponsors are integrated and aligned with various venues and activities. A recent intriguing development has been the addition of sponsors from the home design, building, and renovation industries, which parallel nicely to the desires and interests of patrons who purchase art at the festival. They include LeafFilter, Pella Windows and Doors, D\Stone. Creative, K-Designers, Cactus and Tropicals, Uintah Fireplace and Design  Case Construction and Roofing  The Garden Store and more than 60 other sponsoring businesses, institutions, organizations and media. 

Voodoo Productions.

The core of Sustaining Sponsors includes Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) program, along with Utah Food Services, Park City Culinary Institute and the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. Prestigious Sponsors include United Site Services, Uinta Brewing and Weber Basin Job Corps, which provides tuition-free education and job field training. 

Weber Basin Job Corps is a classic example of sponsor goodwill. For example, the Amphitheater Stage, which involves extensive scaffolding construction and teardown, would likely cost as much as $75,000. Members of the Weber Basin Job Corps provide those services. And, as noted earlier, businesses such as Third Sun Productions are involved in major ways, which includes the creative services for UAF’s website and new app. 

Individual giving is vital to nonprofits, especially in the arts. Following Dunsmore and others who have occupied the role as the festival’s development director, Molly Bitton always welcomes ideas to tap creatively into the individual donor’s psyche. Indeed, while the June festival is the centerpiece of that relationship, initiatives such as the Friends With Benefits program, now in its 15th year, emphasize how the relationship can be sustained throughout the year and hopefully for many years. Hospitality is key, according to Bitton, who sees valuable returns in keeping the approach soft and low key without putting too much pressure. 

2023: Urban Arts, Utah Arts Festival. Photo: Les Roka.

For example, in the Friends with Benefits program, donors can start modestly at $50 annually (which includes a benefit of two general admission festival tickets) or select one of multiple contribution levels ranging in manageable increments to $2,000 or more (which is known as the Super Fan category and carries benefits of four VIP credentials and 16 Friends for a Day pass). The VIP or Friend for a Day Pass gives patrons access to the Friends Patio, Sky Box and Hospitality Patio at the festival. The Sky Box is popular for those who would like a clear line of sight to watch headliners on stage.

The Friends Who Give A Crap fundraising option returns for the sixth year. For $75, a donor can sponsor a Port-A-Potty, and, in return, will have their names featured on a unit along with a pair of festival tickets and a miniature commemorative foam potty. Some donors are creative. Many still talk about a 2018 donor who proposed marriage and even had a Port-A-Potty at their wedding. One of the festival’s best fundraising events, which always sells completely, is the Big Deal Brunch, held on the closing day, prior to the gates being opened. This will be the eighth time for the brunch. Tickets for the brunch run at $40 per individual or $450 for a table of eight with added amenities.

This year’s food vendors comprise a mix of familiar and new enterprises, which cover all options including vegan, vegetarian, peanut-, gluten- and dairy-free. Stuart Melling outlined in detail this year’s offerings at Gastronomic SLC. In addition, Uinta Brewing will return offering its high-end craft brews in the Uinta Lounge. 

2023: Utah Arts Festival. Photo: Les Roka.


Fortunately, for those who are not yet members of the Friends With Benefits program, UAF staff is offering daily VIP passes: $35 (children, 6-12) and $60 (adults and anyone older than 13). For anyone who purchases a VIP pass, they will be admitted to the festival as well as be invited to the Hospitality Patio, which opens at 5 p.m. The pass includes complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages and passholders (who have valid IDs) will receive a ticket for beer, wine or cocktail. All ages are welcome but guests age 6 and older must have a Hospitality Patio or a valid credential to access. Children must be accompanied by an adult. 

This also will be the 26th year in offering admission for free to children, five and under, thanks to the allocation of sales tax revenue earmarked for Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) program. Some 60 percent of festival goers have taken advantage of various ticket discounts and thousands of tickets are given free to underserved and special needs populations. This year’s ticket prices are children (6-12), $8; adult (13+), $18 and senior (65+) / military, $12. Three-day passes are $40. An online festival six-pack for general admission is available for $75 

For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website. 

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