Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: The City Library, The Leonardo return as venues to accommodate expanding programs

This year’s Utah Arts Festival brings back two venues, which have been central in organizers’ efforts to expand events in various programs: The City Library and The Leonardo museum.

It is an exceptional partnership for either a public library or a museum (which honors the multidisciplinary talents of the famous artist da Vinci) or a major arts festival, as few other events like this anywhere in the country have the convenience of logistics or proximity to have this miniature city of arts and culture in a single geographical layout.

This year’s festival comes just two months after the City Library allowed events and its meeting spaces to be available again to public and organization use. The Library discontinued all events in mid-March of 2020 and was closed before reopening on a limited basis and has since progressively taken steady steps to return to its normal functioning capacity.

Bandaloop’s performance at 2018 Utah Arts Festival. Photo Credit: The City Library

“Nancy Tessman [who was executive director when the current City Library was built] said the Library was ‘the place where democracy happens,’ and since then the outward community focus has grown extensively so that we are truly a gathering space with partners,” Debbie Ehrman, interim executive director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, says in an interview with The Utah Review. “In maximizing our partnerships with many others in the community, it also has provided opportunities for the library staff to rethink how we can improve and enhance the use of our space and facilities.” The city’s library system was named Library of the Year in 2006 by Library Journal.

Next winter, the Library will mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the new Library Square campus, an event that also rings significantly in UAF’s history because Library Square has been designated as the home of the Utah Arts Festival along with the Living Traditions Festival, held in May annually, and the Utah Pride Festival, held annually in early June.

With The City Library back online, it will be the home of the 19th annual Fear No Film program. Last summer, the rotating screenings of short films, which represents the fourth largest program at the festival, were presented in a smaller auditorium at The Leonardo. 

Bridgette Thornock. Photo Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

This year, the City Library auditorium will be home again to Fear No Film. The auditorium, which seats 300, often has been the destination for many Utah Film Center screenings as well as an official venue of the Sundance Film Festival. This year’s Fear No Film program will be the first major film festival event in the auditorium since Sundance in 2020.

Also, The Gallery at Library Square, on the fourth floor of the City Library, returns as the festival’s site for its featured visual art exhibition. This year, the traveling exhibition of 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.

UAF’s The Round stage is set up at the library’s amphitheater stage near the reflecting pool on the south side of the main building. Recognizing the area as a useful performing space, library staff enhanced the space by adding an overhead canopy which protects performers and audiences from direct sunlight and the typically hot days and evenings of the festival. 

Bernard Schober (The Klute). Photo Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

The spaces along the east Crescent Wall also are home to the Salt Lake Community College’s Community Writing Center, which is the center of workshops and the Wasatch IronPen competition during the festival, as well as temporary headquarters for festival staff.

The festival blends in seamlessly with the library’s operational rhythm. For example, within the first two weeks of its launch, the library’s annual Super Summer Challenge with the theme of Oceans of Possibilities geared toward levels ranging from babies and toddlers to kids and teens and adults already has registered more than 2,700 participants. 

Ehrman says the new 10-year master plan for the library will include adding a stage area, private reading spaces, and shade structures to its popular rooftop garden and plaza areas. The Library also is planning to open a temporary location for a Ballpark neighborhood library services operation in 2023.

Meanwhile, with The Leonardo returning as a festival venue, organizers are using the space to launch the inaugural edition of the  Emerging Artists Program, featuring visual artists as well as performers who will be at the museum as well as other festival stages. Artists from Utah Diné Bikéyah  and Artes de México en Utah (which also will present severah poets on the Wordfest stage along with a workshop at the SLCC Community Writing Center) will demonstrate their skills, daily on the Salt Bistro Patio, between noon and 5 p.m.

Fatima Al-Saedy. Photo Courtesy: Utah Arts Festival.

Performances In The Leo will take place daily, Friday through Sunday (June 24-26) between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., starting with open mic sessions, in which participants, ages 15 and older, can sign up in the half-hour immediately prior to the beginning of the daily schedule. The open mic sessions will be hosted by Elle Hope.

The Salt Bistro stage will feature several slam poets, all part of UAF’s new Emerging Artists Program. Among the performers scheduled for the Salt Bistro patio are Liberdee Ostler, 16, who attends Kearns High School, and Bridgette Thornock (June 25, 3 p.m.), who recently graduated from high school. Both have been involved in the local poetry slam competitions. Kearns High School also will be represented by Evan Van Leuven and Samantha Smith (June 26, 4:10 p.m.) 

Also slated are Jesus Solis (a/k/a Jezua) (June 25, 3:35 p.m.), a singer and poet from Las Vegas who is planning to release an EP and book (Weird Heavy) this fall. Bernard Schober (The Klute) (June 25, 4:10 p.m., who is among the most successful slam poets from Arizona and is the host of the Phoenix Fan Fusion Nerd Slam. A shark diver and conservationist, he has published several books of poetry and is a launch author on the Brick Cave Books imprint. 

On the festival’s final day, Savannah Davis will perform (June 26, 4:45 p.m.). Davis, a Salt Lake City poet, also is a high school slam competitor and plays guitar. Fatima Al-Saedy (June 26, 5:20 p.m.) is a first-generation Iraqi-American who has become active in political causes. Other performers slated for the Salt Bistro stage include Chris Ware (June 24, 3 p.m.), Raad Syed (June 24, 3:35 p.m.), Franki Marchi (June 24, 4:10 p.m.) and Voodoo Theatre Company (June 24, 5 p.m. and June 26, 3 p.m.).

For UAF patrons, The Leo will offer half off admission to the museum’s current exhibition, From Monet to Kandinsky, an immersive digital visual experience highlighting the works of 10 artists including  Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch and Wassily Kandinsky. Showings will be available from noon to 7 p.m, daily.

For more information about all UAF venues and events, see the Utah Arts Festival website

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