Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: 46th Utah Arts Festival set to return at full strength, fresh with innovative examples of creative expression

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Utah Review begins its preview coverage today of the 46th Utah Arts Festival, which will be held June 23-26 (noon to 11 p.m. on June 23-25 and noon to 9 p.m. on June 26) 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 for the next two weeks for previews, interviews and features as part of our annual wall-to-wall coverage.

Taking into account robust attendance numbers from the recent Kilby Court Block Party, Living Traditions and Utah Pride festivals in the central downtown civic complex, the probabilities look excellent for the upcoming Utah Arts Festival, which will return June 23-26 in its full scale for the first time since 2019.

A slimmer version of the festival, using about 30 percent less space than in its most recent years, was held in late August last year. But, the 2022 version will be back at 100%, including the Amphitheater Stage, which is used for evening concert headliners, the return of the Art Yard for kids, and full versions of the literary arts (Wordfest) and Fear No Film programs. This includes the popular poetry slam competitions, with the return of youth individual and team slams. Team slam competitions will bring in participants from Salt Lake City, Ogden and teams representing metro areas in the Intermountain West and southwest regions.

August 2021 : Utah Arts Fest. Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

The Urban Arts venue will have its own dedicated performance space, with two dozen DJs and musicians. Also, the City Library and The Leonardo museum will rejoin as festival venues. The Artist Marketplace will have among its largest representation ever, with 175 artists. This includes 57 who are making their first appearance at the Utah Arts Festival. There will be 116 from outside of Utah. This year’s pool included 518 applicants. 

Aimée Dunsmore, UAF’s executive director, says it was important to return as quickly as possible and permit staging the festival in its usual full format. Last summer’s shorter, slimmer event gave festival organizers the opportunity to take stock of the broad spectrum of events and see where new prospects and existing programs could be freshened to incorporate a rising generation of new artists and performers.


Thus, there are some subtle yet potentially significant changes. With The Leonardo back as a venue, the festival will have space for a showcase of its inaugural Emerging Artists program with individuals from the visual, literary and performing arts. With Wynter Storm, the festival’s community and inclusion coordinator, on board, groups such YWCA, Artes de Mexico en Utah, Art Access and Utah Black Artists Collective are gaining visibility in extending the access and paths for new artists and platforms for creative expression. Utah’s creative arts bench is deep and broad. 

Returning Award Winner: Christian Coleman and Emily Edmunds, Salt Lake City. photo Credit: Les Roka.

UAF organizers recognize just how broad the slate can be when it comes to representing artists. The state’s creative industries employ 155,551 Utahns and contribute $7.2 billion (4.3%) to Utah’s economy, according to numbers compiled by the Utah Cultural Alliance. Utah leads the country in arts and creative enterprise per capita. For a state with roughly 3.3 million population, the reach is impressive: there are more than 350 museums in Utah, for example.

Dunsmore says UAF decided to open up the jury process and invite members of the community to help select artists and performers who will be in the festival this year. Indeed, the lineups at all venues include not only some familiar performers and artists but plenty of new faces.

The inaugural edition of the Emerging Artists program of visual artists from Utah will be present in the area between The Leonardo and the City Library along with the Diné Bikéyah Exhibit inside the museum. Among them is Alli Arocho, who recently conducted a workshop during the Living Traditions Festival, a Puerto Rican artist and folklorist from Borikén. She experiments with acrylic paints, and mask-making out of coconuts and clay. Kristie Tueller became a silversmith after a 30-year career in another field. Andrew Andersen is a spray paint artist who works at a quick pace. Durga Ekambaram specializes in upside-down painting, while Levi Selway is a classically trained contemporary bronze sculptor. 

Wynter Storm.

Performers include Chelsea Guevara, a U.S.-Salvadoreña spoken word poet from Utah who creates metaphors from her interests in language, food and Venus flytraps. Tree Hill is a spoken word artist and incorporates a melodic hip-hop expression style she calls Galactic Gospel.  

“Listening to the title of the coordinator position, it made me really excited,” Wynter says. “Essentially this is exactly what I have been doing at UBLAC [Utah Black Artists Collective]. This is like my own personal vision of what can make the state of Utah more inclusive as one big community.” Wynter and Jayrod P. Garrett, who will be performing as well on the Wordfest Stage, are co-founders of UBLAC. 

Wynter says that so many artists have chosen Utah as home, so “why not make it feel like home for all of us.” One of the most essential criteria for the festival’s coordinators is the extent of their ties to various groups in the communities and how they intersect and cross-pollinate. In Wynter’s case, she is an African-American poet, musician (percussionist) and entrepreneur, who also is an active member of Utah’s LGBTQ+ community. 

Photo Credit: Les Roka.

Wynter also emphasizes that her community affiliations extend to Ogden, Brigham City and along the Idaho border, which are helping to strengthen connections so that individuals who visit, and more importantly, participate in the festival emphasize how the event should represent the state as comprehensively as possible. 

The Emerging Artists program also institutionalizes broadly the experiences of newcomers to UAF and how their presence is adding to and reshaping the next chapters of Utah’s arts and cultural evolution. “I am grateful for how the literary arts program was a stepping stone for me,” Wynter explains. “UAF is amazing for how it is opening doors for artists and for how it is open to ideas for bringing new programs to life. It is exciting to see how the whole team is listening to the community and for taking it up a notch so that people attending the festival can see themselves and their cultures being represented in the festival. It is a joyous time.” 

The dance schedule is another example of the expanding horizon. There are the familiar hallmarks: Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT), the only group which has performed in every UAF except one; 1520 Arts, which appears all four days at The Round stage, and perennial Festival Stage favorite Tanner Children Dance Theatre. Notably, there are four groups making their first UAF appearance: Salt Lake Dance and Parkour, Ballet Folklorico Quetzalcoatl de Utah, Carnaval de Barranquilla Utah, and the New York City-based Jamal Jackson Dance Company.

August 2021 : Utah Arts Fest. Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

Theater, the one performing art genre which the festival has not typically presented because of space and logistics, makes an appearance this year with The Voodoo Theatre Company, which will be part of the Emerging Artists program. The company will feature monologues selected by the actors.


The Leonardo museum, which returns after an absence of four years, will be the site of demonstrations, daily from noon to 5 p.m., on the Salt Bistro Patio, including members of Artes de Mexico en Utah and Utah Diné Bikéyah. In the museum, open mic sessions and spoken word performances will take place June 23-25 between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. This will be open to all visitors, 15 and older, as well as experience level and genres. Participants will be on a first-come, first-served basis and will be required to sign up. Those under 18 will need an accompanying parent or guardian. 

For Wordfest (Literary Arts), in addition to the youth, individual and team slams and a full slate of literary performers representing every imaginable genre, the Wasatch IronPen Literary Marathon returns for the 14th 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 on the Friday of the festival and will have 24 hours to complete their submissions. Winners will read their work on the final day of the festival at the Wordfest Stage.

Sophie Santos, Solution 5: Oyster Mushrooms to Combat Oxidized Oil Spill. 50th Annual Utah All-State High School Art show. Springville Museum of Art.

The CWC also is bringing back workshops and quick interactive literary activities at its site on Library Square. Workshops include making graphic novels and novellas, journaling for health and well-being, creating pop-up books for kids, integrating math with poetry, food writing, songwriting and writing fiction with climate themes, among others.

And, one of the most popular features, the Art Yard returns in full bloom as a creative laboratory for upcycled materials, this year with activities centered on the theme of dinosaurs. There will be large installation pieces where kids can adorn with features they create onsite. Make and take projects also will be available. Various organizations also will have booths for activities including the Rock Canyon Poets, Utah Black Artists Collective and Clever Octopus, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Visual Arts Institute and, of course, the Natural History Museum of Utah, which has the world’s largest collection of ceratopsian dinosaurs. Make Salt Lake is creating thousands of clothespin dinosaurs that become puppets. Fear No Film also will present a program of seven short films for kids. Finally, an Art Yard staple returns: Summerhays Music Center’s Instrument Petting Zoo. Summerhays is the state’s oldest family-owned music store, which opened in 1936. 

Urban Arts returns and will have the largest program in its history, 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 decade has inspired and fostered the growth in large public mural art projects. Indeed, Salt Lake City is in a golden age of mural art, as exemplified by major displays and exhibitions at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and other museums in the state. There will be a collaborative mural created by Pablo Pinet, venue coordinator, and Chase Estes during the third and fourth days of the festival. The slate of more than a dozen DJs will bring live music from EDM (electronic dance music), trap, house, R&B, hip-hop and other genres. There will be a fan favorite, Fat Cap Hat Gallery where patrons can purchase a made-to-order graffiti-style hat. Mark Miller Subaru also is sponsoring the Leave Your Mark walls where patrons can add their own doodles and images with chalkboard pens. For the 10th edition of his fascinating color theory experiment in a collaborative public art installation, Mason Fetzer will bring 100 Artists/1 Image, a 20-foot-by-20-foot piece.

100 Artists/1 Image. 2021. Mason Fetzer. Photo Credit: Les Roka.

Fear No Film’s slate, which will be screened in 12 programs in the City Library auditorium, is one of the biggest in its 19-year history. There are 71 short films representing 23 countries and 11 languages. More than 40% of the films feature female directors. Audience members, as usual, will have the chance to vote for their festival favorites, including the 13 Utah films in two programs, for Utah Short of the Year honors.  

The 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, will be the festival’s featured exhibition in The Gallery at Library Square on the fourth floor of The City Library. This year is the 50th edition of the show, among the nation’s largest and longest-running student art shows of its kind. The traveling exhibition presents a sample of the 335 works selected in total, representing 108 Utah high schools. There were 1,063 entries judged by a panel of twelve professional artists and arts administrators.

Diggin Dirt. Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

Music headliners, who will appear on either the Amphitheater or Festival stages, magnify this year’s diverse, eclectic emphasis. Rapper and actor Lyrics Born (Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura), who was born in Tokyo and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been performing for 25 years. In April, Lyrics Born released Mobile Homies Season 1, which started as a podcast during the pandemic. He says the podcast now is being expanded into a series of album releases and this premiere release features collaborators including  Cutso, Lateef the Truthspeaker, Con Brio, Galactic, Shing02 and Blackalicious. 

Kombilesa Mi, a hip hop ensemble from Palenque, Colombia, the first free black town in the Americas, preserves their cultural heritage by rapping in Palenquero, while incorporating call and response, dance, and traditional Afro-Colombian rhythms.

The festival’s Friday evening lineup features one of the titans of new wave rock – The Fixx, which first came on the scene in the 1980s and has influenced pop culture and music since then. A week ago, the band released its 10th studio album, Every Five Seconds,  its first all-new collection in nearly a decade. 

The Fixx. Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

Highlighting the festival’s jazz offerings is Theo Croker, a Grammy-nominated artist and highly sought after sessions musician whose band performs internationally. Versatile in soul, funk, R&B and classical, Judith Hill, who  collaborated with legends like Michael Jackson and Prince, will perform. Her backing ensemble includes her parents Michiko and Robert (aka Pee Wee), who met as performers in a funk band. Leyla McCalla, a multilingual musician who plays various instruments, will bring to the stage her music, which blends New Orleans influences and Haitian rhythms, with lyrics sung in English, French and Haitian Creole. Also representing New Orleans is Esther Rose, whose music evokes the life experiences of her home city. Diggin Dirt, a seven-piece ensemble from California, featuring horns and guitars, will bring their version of the dance party to the festival. Among the most cosmopolitan bands is Toubab Krewe, which fuses rock, African traditions, jam sensibilities, international folk strains and sounds based on their own cultural research in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali.


Between 60% and 65% of the organization’s annual revenue comes from the festival, which costs approximately $2 million to stage, but Meagan Mod, UAF development director also is continuing her predecessor’s efforts (Dunsmore) to extend the year-round visibility for UAF’s presence in the creative arts communities. This includes opportunities to screen the best short films from the Fear No Film venue, which is in its 19th year, as well as augmenting the ever-expanding Wordfest and literary arts program, which is in its 27th year. Mod said moving the masquerade party from Mardi Gras to the fall was successful. 

Awaiting a formal announcement with details expected later this summer, UAF will become the new coordinating organization for the Wasatch Studio Tour, which represents some 120 artists in 45 locations along the Wasatch Front, extending as far south as Draper. The concept goes beyond the gallery stroll, as visitors can explore and see how artists work in their element. It has proven successful in Boise, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver.

Ihsan Rustem. Hallelujah Junction. Repertory Dance Theatre. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

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 are purchasing art at the festival. Some examples are LeafFilter, Sparrow Electric, Pella Windows and Doors and Tuff Shed. 

But the festival staff also has continued to expand its efforts in tapping creatively into the individual donor’s psyche, particularly in shepherding fundraising efforts that point toward a legacy relationship potentially stretching across several generations. Membership numbers of the Friends With Benefits program, now in its 13th year, are gaining after the pandemic hiatus. The program is a vital springboard for the festival’s development program, which seeks to solidify and sustain long-term relationships. One of the most successful approaches resonates with the same casual, close-knit family or community ambience that drives the festival’s overall vibe. Hospitality is key, according to Mod, who sees valuable returns in keeping the approach soft and low key without putting too much pressure. 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 sly whimsical approach has worked especially well for Friends Who Give A Crap, which is being offered for the fifth time. Every available Port-A-Potty was claimed in 2019 by donations. 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. In 2018, there was a marriage proposal and the couple had a Port-A-Potty at their wedding. Mod says the campaign resonates well with prospects who otherwise might not donate if the approach seemed too formal or even snobbish. Indeed, restrooms are an unexpected appeal. Dunsmore says that more than a few Friends with Benefits members cite the access to the excellent mobile restroom facilities on the Hospitality and Sponsor Patio as a highly desired perk of membership.

Toubab Krewe.

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.

Volunteers also represent a potent festival advantage, especially in ensuring that each year’s programming always incorporates new elements in various ways. There are in-kind donations of significant value. For example, the Amphitheater Stage, which involves extensive scaffolding construction and teardown, would likely cost as much as $75,000. But, members of the Weber Basin Job Corps, which provides tuition-free education and job field training, demonstrate the goodwill value of such partnerships. Weber Basin Job Corps is listed as a Prestigious Partner sponsor.

Kombilesa Mi. Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

Each year, hundreds sign up to volunteer for what essentially is a miniature city of arts and culture. Given the extensive layout at the festival, between 1,000 and 1,200 volunteers are needed. Employees from Goldman Sachs have volunteered extensively for the event. The average value of that volunteer effort is a critical element in grant or foundation proposals – with a calculated value of at least $25 per volunteer hour. The cost of staging the festival per person has increased dramatically within this decade – by as much as 60 percent to between $25 and $30 per individual.

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. The list includes corn dogs, crepes, roasted corn, Mexican grill and Peruvian cuisine. In addition, Uinta Brewing will return offering its high-end craft brews in the Uinta Lounge. 

Tickets and Admission

This also will be the 24th year in offering admission for free to children, 12 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. Tickets are $13 online (with additional fees) and $15 when purchased at festival gates. Four-day passes are $45 and seniors and military personnel can purchase tickets for $8. 

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