South Salt Lake’s blocks of plain warehouses embodied little more than unrealized potential a few years ago, but some discovered inspiration in those big, blank walls. Today, the area has found a niche as a zone for creative industries and a beautiful solution to those big, blank walls: Mural Fest.
“The city had some underutilized warehouse space that started attracting creative businesses, entrepreneurs, distilleries and breweries,” says Lesly Allen of the South Salt Lake Arts Council. “So, it was a really great time to create this amazing outdoor gallery.”
With the buildings as canvases, all they needed were the right artists for the job. In 2018, the event’s first year, Mural Fest received 23 submissions. In 2021, 158 artists answered the open call from all over the world. A jury selects 10 of the artists, then organizers have the considerable task of pairing artists with the right location.
“It’s actually kind of tricky finding buildings,” says Allen. “It’s like a puzzle. It depends on the wall’s surface and size and the artist’s experience and style.” It also depends on the property owners. “Once they’re paired with the artist, then they work together to come up with the design of the mural.”
Recruiting willing businesses to participate can be a bit of a challenge. Mural Fest asks that business owners pitch in about 25% of the cost of the mural, but, Allen says, it’s still a lot less than what they would pay to commission the same mural artists directly. They make up the difference with funding from ZAP and city, county and state governments.
Artists have the first few weeks of May to paint the murals, but otherwise, it’s up to them how much time they want to take. The mural on the south side of Level Crossing Brewing Company apparently took Connecticut-based artist ARCY two days to paint. “The entire thing is spray paint. The detail is amazing,” adds Allen. During that time, she encourages people to come out and “watch the art come to life.”
To see them for yourself, most of the murals are clustered around West Temple between 2100 South and the water tower (about 2500 South). See them as soon as you can, because, the reality is, the murals might not be there forever. Between buildings changing owners and damage from weather or vandalism, there’s no way to guarantee the longevity of every mural. But, Allen says, “the goal is to leave them all up for as long as we can. As long as we can keep finding walls.”
This year’s Mural Fest artists will begin painting today, May 4. An artist meet-and-greet and walking tour of the completed murals will be held on May 15. For more exciting summer activities, click here.