The theater marquees project confidence belying the empty spaces behind them. “We’ll be back,” they promise. I hope they’re right. The artworld is unduly burdened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; an unfortunate plight for trades sustained by gatherings of people. The timing for an extended artistic hiatus couldn’t be much worse for Park City as the community has invested in legitimizing its image as an artistic and cultural hub of the American West.

Officials in Park City long to diversify the town’s identity and economy beyond that of a traditional ski town reliant upon increasingly fickle winters amid a changing climate. The heart of the transformation is the Arts and Culture District, a five-acre parcel of land at the corner of Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard slated for studios, galleries and performing arts spaces. The district represents an enormous commitment to advancing arts and culture in Park City.

The town is shouldering upward of $70 million to develop the area along with partners Kimball Art Center and Sundance Institute, both of which plan to have headquarters there. The two organizations, however, have been hard hit during the pandemic, clouding their potential involvement. Each has been forced to lay off staff as their main fundraising events—the Kimball Arts Festival was canceled, and the Sundance Film Festival will be radically narrowed—have been disrupted. Both Kimball and Sundance remain committed, but the town is making backup plans should their involvement fall through.

The Arts and Culture District is vital to cultivating a creative community in Park City that isn’t ancillary and transient. For all its accolades, the Sundance Film Festival casts a long shadow. For two weeks the festival transforms the town into an international curiosity, but once the celebrities and corporate-sponsored pop-up clubs leave, the cultural maw is evident. The Park City Film Series and the Sundance Institute continue to screen independent films, but cinema fades into the background. The same can be said of the Kimball Arts Festival, which for three days brings vitality and diversity to Main Street. Despite consistently wonderful programming at the Kimball Arts Center, the festival’s end shifts Park City’s artistic emphasis to expensive galleries selling mountain scenes evoking a misplaced fetishization of manifest destiny.

Park City is bleeding culture. The Egyptian Theatre, a Main Street icon, indefinitely shuttered to conserve resources until they can safely put acts on stage again. Sundance in January will look little like the norm. Kimball Arts Center is still waiting for a permanent home. Low-interest rates alone can’t cultivate an art community in Park City. Without our local cultural curators, and arts and culture district will be devoid of both. 

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