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RAIN SHOWERS HERALD THE OPENING OF A SPIRITED UTAH ARTS FESTIVAL

For a while it looked as if the first day of the Utah Arts Festival might be a washout.

Organizers seemed somewhat dismayed when thunderclouds rolled in Wednesday and began dousing the grounds of the Triad Center at precisely 11:55 a.m. - five minutes before the festival's scheduled opening."I can't believe it. It hasn't rained for weeks," said Emily Cannon, a festival publicity coordinator. Fortunately, organizers had planned ahead, and most of the grounds were covered with tents.

"It's not dampening our spirits at all," Cannon said.

The rain soon cleared, leaving only mud in its wake. For the next several hours, festival patrons carefully high-stepped it across a few fields of ooze to reach the tables where they could sit and enjoy a wide variety of treats - including pasta and pastries.

The discriminating diner could munch on pizzas, cinnamon rolls, meatball sandwiches and other such "food art," as organizers called it, apparently so named because the costs for some of the gastronomical delights seemed almost as expensive as an original painting.

Visitors could dine while listening to jazz, rock or classical music, and afterward look at a wide variety of sculptures and crafts at Exhibition 1991 in the Union Pacific Depot.

For those who prefer to take some art home with them, there was ample opportunity to do that as well. Artists, in booths near the east entrance, sold, among other things, home-spun apparel, original sculptures, jewelry and fish-shaped pillows.

For $5, Karen DeBirk draws a "no frills" caricatures of patrons in a variety of poses - beach hunk, bikini babe or adventure-person extraordinaire.

Her drawing of Justin Garrison of Salt Lake City gave the 8-year-old the "Indiana Jones" look. "I think faces are fascinating," she said as she deftly added a few wisps of hair to her caricature of Garrison.

DeBirk has been drawing caricatures since 1979, she said, and the hours can be long. She admitted that at the end of a typical 12-hour day, she builds up a "pretty good writer's cramp."

For a few more bucks, DeBirk is happy to add a little color to your caricature's cheeks. Or, if you prefer, you can visit the Children's Art Yard and have them add color to your entire face with paints and a selection of designs limited only by your imagination.

Though it mostly seemed to appeal to children, it wasn't unusual to see folks of all ages parading about the festival grounds looking like refugees from an explosion at a Crayola factory.

Whatever the appearances, it was clear that many people had a lot of fun.

Note: The Utah Arts Festival is located at the Triad Center (see accompanying calendar). Admission is $1 for children and $4 for adults. Some discounts and family passes are available.