Salt Lake City’s Gallery Stroll benefits artists and galleries alike

Story and slideshow by CHRIS SAMUELS

Watch the creative process of local artist Dane Goodwin as he makes a screen print.

Blending older buildings with gentrification, downtown Salt Lake City is playing host to a transformative arts scene with the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll as a backbone of the city’s cultural growth.

Locals and visitors alike meander down streets, gazing at the best visual art that Utah’s artists create on a monthly basis.

Similar scenes take place in the Sugarhouse neighborhood farther south, with galleries on 1500 East, and on the city’s improving west side surrounding the Gateway Mall.

The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll has been around for as long as many in the local arts community can remember. But, according to its website, the program actually started in 1983. A group of local galleries started keeping their doors opened later than usual to hold special events or gatherings in order to showcase local art.

Since then, the organization has grown to become its own entity and nonprofit organization, acting as a coordinator for the different galleries to showcase visual arts. Using more than 35 public and private organizations as sponsors, the Gallery Stroll helps a collection of more than 50 local galleries stay open late every third Friday of the month, except December when it’s the first Friday, to showcase group art, single artist showcases, or prize winners for local art competitions for students or up-and-coming artists.

University of Utah student Dane Goodwin, a winner of such a competition, was first featured in the Gallery Stroll after submitting art to a university board which displayed a few of his pieces in a participating gallery. Since then, the junior who is majoring in printing has been featured several times, most recently in April 2016 at the Copper Palate Press, a workshop and gallery located in an alleyway off 200 South near 200 East.

Goodwin was approached by the owner, Brian Taylor, to feature his abstract drawings and print art in a group exhibition, or a collection of artists showing off their work. To Goodwin and other artists, the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is the premier event on the arts calendar to earn profits.

“It gives me a chance to sell my work,” he says. “A lot of people come out to see [artists’] works and become more exposed to [them] than if you were just trying to set something up yourself.”

Goodwin said other opportunities to sell his art, such as large arts festivals or outside concerts, become “huge ordeals.” Featuring and selling art at the Gallery Stroll creates an atmosphere of casual art enthusiasts who may be more inclined to buy his art.

Kandace Steadman, the visual arts program manager at the Salt Lake City Arts Council, agrees that the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll gives artists — and galleries — much needed exposure to the public.

“The Gallery Stroll gives that opportunity for galleries to be open and for the people to see art. Arts in general get a lot of benefit from the Gallery Stroll,” she said in a phone interview.

Galleries can feature different visual art pieces at every stroll, and artists can bounce around and apply to be featured in a different gallery each month.

Steadman and the Salt Lake City Arts Council, which supports and sponsors arts events throughout the city, manage a small gallery near the University of Utah named Finch Lane. Steadman says that without the Gallery Stroll, many of the nonprofit galleries in Salt Lake wouldn’t have a sufficient reason to stay open past normal business hours, when most members of the public will actually be available to see art.

As many as 40 galleries participate in the monthly event. That variety, Steadman said, can also be a drawback.

“There’s so many places to go, that you can’t get to every gallery on Gallery Stroll [nights]. For me, when I go I always choose three or four galleries to go to, and that’s about all I can go to …. There’s so many places to see local art, that you can’t get to in one night.”

According to information found on the Gallery Stroll website, different clusters of galleries make having a central location difficult. On a map from the March 2016 Gallery Stroll, the majority of galleries featured were downtown, grouped in areas near the Gateway Mall, Main Street and the 200 South, 200 East neighborhood. Several other participating galleries were on 400 South, near the main library, and in Sugarhouse.

In a quieter and more gentrified neighborhood, located away from many of the clusters of art galleries that attract the bulk of guests, 15th Street Gallery, appropriately located on the northeast corner of 1500 South and 1500 East, is a modern, chic art space that benefits from the Gallery Stroll every third Friday.

“That’s probably all the advertising that we do,” said Lucy Heller, the art director of the gallery, in a phone interview. “Primarily we do a really good gallery stroll, because we feel like that’s good entertainment for people to come out and see what’s available.”

Dane Goodwin thinks each gallery’s location reflects the culture that exists in the area. He said the 15th Street Gallery has less abstract art that could appeal to residents of that area, rather than the more radical cultural movements of the 200 South 200 East neighborhood, where many local artists have their studios.

Steadman, from the Salt Lake City Arts Council, says this can give the artist consistency and somewhat of a following, due to the cooperation that exists between galleries.

“The galleries that are associated with the Gallery Stroll are showing local art or works, which really benefits the arts and shows who is doing what,” she says. “And if you go enough, you start to see ‘oh yeah, I saw this person in an exhibition a year ago, and now they’re having another exhibition,’ and you can track their art career.”

What the Gallery Stroll might lack is the amount of diverse artists who are selected and featured each month. While the Gallery Stroll does not have a direct say in which artists are featured — that decision is left to the individual participating galleries — artists are left to fend for themselves getting an opportunity to be showcased.

Kandace Steadman with the Salt Lake City Arts Council recognized the lack of cultural diversity in the Salt Lake
arts scene, but said the process for any artist to be known is a “two-way street.”

Public galleries, like Salt Lake City’s Finch Lane, do not reach out to artists like private galleries do. Instead, an application process is used to determine who is featured every month.

“In order to have a diversity of artists showing, you have to have a diversity of artists applying,” she said. “We can help artists, and we do represent a broad variety of artists, but unless an artist with a diverse background applies, it’s really hard for us to show their work.”

Local artist Dane Goodwin also recognizes the lack of minorities in local arts, but said at least one gallery actively represents minority artists and culture. The Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts, which operates the Mestizo gallery and coffee shop at 631 W. North Temple, focuses its gallery on Hispanic and African American issues, according to a recent article by the Deseret News.