Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: New three-day schedule, easy-to-use festival app, free fares with Utah Transit Authority at top of list


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Utah Review begins its preview coverage today of the 46th Utah Arts Festival, which will be held June 23-25  (noon to 11 p.m. on June 23-24 and noon to 9 p.m. on June 25) 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 through June 22 for previews, interviews and features as part of our annual wall-to-wall coverage. This curtain raiser is in three sections. For  more information about the Emerging Artists program, see this link, and for a top-line summary of the festival’s programs, see this link


The 47th Utah Arts Festival, which opens June 23 at the downtown civic plaza comprising Washington Square and Library Square, has several changes. The most significant one is that the event, which typically has been held over four days, will now just be three: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But, as Aimée Dunsmore, UAF’s executive director, explains, losing that fourth day does not mean the usual scale and scope of performers and venues has shrunk. Certainly, the 31 hours in which the festival will be open to the public will be packed with performances and activities at every program venue. This includes 170 local, national and internationally known performers on six stages, a juried international short film program, a multidisciplinary Art Yard for kids, one of the largest Artists Marketplace in UAF history, the most extensive Literary Arts program since it was launched in 1995, along with a similar scale and scope in Urban Arts and the involvement of the City Library and The Leonardo museum on the civic campus.

Thursday June 23, 2022 : Utah Arts Fest,
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

Several years ago, UAF had tested a mobile app for the festival  but as Third Sun’s Jocelyn Kearl explains, it was ahead of its time, as festival patrons still preferred a printed program. But, in the aftermath of the pandemic, as QR codes, digital apps and other remote mobile options became widespread for users, UAF decided that this year would be the ideal time to launch an accessible, comprehensive app with clear navigational logistics. 

Available 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.

Friday June 24,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

To encourage app downloads, UAF also has included a scavenger hunt on the app, where participants can win prizes. There also are coupons including discounts provided by some of the artists who are participating as well as offers for other festival items and purchases. 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.    

Another new feature for the festival involves the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) Festivalgoers 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. 

The festival’s multifaceted slates reflect just how broadly the slate can be when it comes to representing artists. In 2021 alone, according to numbers compiled by the Utah Cultural Alliance, the state’s cultural industry directly or indirectly supported approximately 7.5% of all Utah jobs, generated an estimated $347.9 million in direct tax revenue, and generated $4.8 billion in GDP, which represented 2.1% of Utah’s total GDP.

Thursday June 23,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto


Between 60% and 65% of the organization’s annual revenue comes from the festival, which costs a bit more than $2 million to stage. Molly Bitton, UAF development director, also is continuing to extend the year-round visibility for UAF’s presence in the creative arts communities. 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.

Last fall, UAF became 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. The first event was held last October. 

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, Sparrow Electric and Tuff Shed, along with Mark Miller Subaru and more than 60 other sponsoring businesses, institutions, organizations and media. 

Friday June 24,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

The core of Sustaining Sponsors includes Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) program, along with Utah Food Services 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, 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 14th 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. 

Sunday June 26,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

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.

Friday June 24,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto

No question, the hundreds who volunteer to work at the festival perhaps have some of the greatest cumulative impact. With a half dozen stages and disciplinary programs that alone could constitute their own large-scale festival, as many as 1,000 to 1,200 volunteers are needed to handle the logistics and ensure the infrastructure hums smoothly. The average value of that volunteer effort is a critical element in grant or foundation proposals – with a calculated average value of at least $25 per volunteer hour. 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 cost of staging the festival per person has increased dramatically within the last half dozen years by as much as 60 percent to between $27 and $30 per individual festivalgoer.

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. Some of the best-known names include Bruges Kitchen, known for their Liege waffles; Cluck Truck, which offers chicken and fries; Cowboy Corndogs, Fry Me to the Moon, which offers plenty of sweet and savory fried foods and is a popular late night food truck operation; Maize Tacos, which also offers Mexican style street corn and churros; Mecca, which will serve coffee and boba tea beverages; Nectar SLC, which has fruit drinks including mock cocktails; Salt City Sliders, with vegan and traditional options along with some fusion cuisine preparations, as well as others.  In addition, Uinta Brewing will return offering its high-end craft brews in the Uinta Lounge. 

Sunday June 26,2022 : Utah Arts Fest
Jeff Swinger/SwingmanPhoto


Fortunately, for those who are not yet members of the Friends With Benefits program, UAF staff is offering a new ticket option this year with daily VIP passes. For anyone who purchases a VIP pass for $50, 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 25th 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+), $16 and senior (65+) / military, $10. Three-day passes are $40.

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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