Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: A sure winner in this year’s Art Yard for kids: Dinosaurs!

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When it comes to facts about dinosaurs, kids seem to know enough to suggest that they have already started down the bath of becoming budding paleontologists. In Utah, dinosaurs always are a trending topic. Geologists and paleontologists have developed a timeline spanning many millions of years while documenting the existence of more than 115 species. Allosaurus is Utah’s state fossil. An 1857 expedition in southern Utah led to the discovery of the bones of the Dystrophaeus, known as the rarest, oldest and first example of a sauropod dinosaur in western North America. The Brachiosaurus, which is estimated to have weighed 80 tons or the equivalent of 15 adult elephants, is believed to have lived in what is now known as the Morrison Formation of Utah. 

But if you have kids obsessed with dinosaurs, there is a decent chance that they already know these facts. For this year’s Utah Arts Festival, Margaret Willis, the veteran coordinator of the Art Yard, decided that with the festival’s first full-scale presence in three years, this was the opportune moment to bring a theme which she has been waiting to deploy for quite a while — dinosaurs.

For Willis, the hands-on arts activities for highlighting this theme quickly sprung to mind, almost by instinct and the various nonprofit organizations and museums which will be involved in the Art Yard this year capture the spectrum of creative and informative possibilities for fueling any young person’s interests in dinosaurs. “It’s really easy to gear this to kids’ interests in dinosaurs because they don’t see them nightmarish monsters but as the sort of creatures which make them want to learn and know more about them,” Willis says. 

Also, the value of upcycled materials again is central to the artistic vision that pops with incredible bursts of do-it-yourself and imaginative take-home projects, which many parents are overjoyed to discover that they do not overburden their pocketbooks. The lesson is clear: creative activities do not have to break the bank and they are sensitive to being smart and responsible about the environment. Many parents are relieved to discover that DIY projects do not have to be complicated or costly in acquiring materials, Willis explains. 

Every year, Willis, in the middle of winter, already is collecting materials that will be upcycled into imaginative projects. She contacts neighbors and friends as well as business owners to collect numerous items including the paper tubes for toilet paper and containers and lids that often might be disposed of in recycling bins. Jugs and cardboard boxes from a big box retailer? Willis will gladly take them. For those who have large stashes of plastic food containers or bowls they collected from ordering in food during the pandemic and have washed, Willis will accept those as well. Virtually any material is worthy of being upcycled into an art project. 

Recently, she put out the call on social media for any old furniture pieces that instead of being discarded could be used for building dinosaur sculptures and installations on site during the festival. This year’s theme lends nicely,to,so many different types of materials and objects, including old satellite dishes. 

These “junkosaurs” will be available for young artists to adorn them as they see fit. There also will be Jurassic insect installations for decorating. There will be an opportunity to design scales for their skins, construct teeth for their jaws as well as claws for their extremities and wings. There will be a Triassic garden display available for cultivating conifers, cycadophytes, ginkgoes, ferns and large arborescent horsetails to spread around the landscape.

The base sculptures for the Art Yard, which will be open daily noon to 9 p.m., are made by residents of the Eva Carlston Academy, a residential treatment center in Salt Lake City where Willis teaches art and therapeutic arts to young women.

Nearly every participating nonprofit organization has a dinosaur-specific activity planned. The Rock Canyon Poets will be on hand daily from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. helping young writers write their own short poem about their favorite thing about dinosaurs. The Utah Black Artist Collective is collaborating with Clever Octopus, which specializes in thrift art and craft materials, daily, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., to present the “I AM” workshop, whee participants can share their favorite words and sounds about dinosaurs on vinyl records, or by displaying their word of the moment, life, or day on a decorative button to wear.

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art will provide materials for participants to make a fossil sculpture or textured art piece representing dinosaurs. What dinosaur activity event would be complete without the presence of the Natural History Museum of Utah, which has one of the most impressive dinosaur exhibits in the U.S. NHMU staff will be on hand to explore different arrangements of horns on ceratopsian dinosaurs, of which the museum has the world’s largest display of its kind. Visitors can design and decorate their own ceratopsian hat to take home. 

Make Salt Lake will have dinosaur puppets to distribute. Beth Sallay coordinated the project, in which she drew images of various dinosaurs and them produced scaled-down laser cut images which are attached to clothes pins. The detail of the small images is impressive and the cutouts are professional and smooth. The clothes pin allows one to move the dinosaur as if it was chomping down. Sallay says she already has made more than 2,000 for the festival and will likely do more. Sallay also has developed a line of ”nerd badges,” which highlight all sorts of pop culture references from the 1980s onward. The felt badges are merited for those who can immediately identify the image and its cultural significance.

For monthly membership fees, which are available at regular, business, student and veterans levels, members can use the various shops and services at Make Salt Lake, which operates out of a warehouse at the Utah Arts Alliance building just west of downtown. These include a fully equipped wood tool shop with lathes, drills, saws and other devices, as well as 3-D printers and all sorts of crafting tools. Members, for example, can be trained by master carpenters, who can assist them on proper uses of the machinery. The metal shop is equipped to gain experience for MIM (metal injection molding) certification. There are approximately 300 members. 

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will demonstrate and provide participants the opportunity to experiment with paleoart, which involves drawing or painting prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs. Visitors will be able to create their own fossil rubbing and then “flesh” it out by drawing skin, teeth, feathers, or horns. The Visual Arts Institute’s Dino-Whimsy also will give participants the opportunity to create their own fantasy dinosaur drawings 

The Art Yard also will be home to the Toddler Zone, as well as one of the venue’s most popular activities: Summerhays Music Center’s Instrument Petting Zoo.

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