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Free rides proposed to arts-fest events

Fear keeps Utahns away from cultural events in downtown Salt Lake City.

"It's not that the community's not adventurous," said Ray Grant, director of the Olympic Arts Festival, a k a the Cultural Olympiad. No, the dread is born of the downtown parking shortage. And across the Wasatch Front, the public perception of a gridlocked Salt Lake City can only worsen come February 2002.

But Grant has an idea that he presented to the Downtown Alliance recently.

"Transportation is the No. 1 issue when a community tries to host the Olympic Games," Grant said. When he assembled some 50 Olympic Arts Festival events, he also sought to simplify how people will travel to them. About three-fourths of festivalgoers will be local residents, coming from within an hour's drive of Salt Lake City, he said. So Grant, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the Utah Transit Authority are working on having Arts Festival tickets also serve as TRAX and bus passes. If all goes as planned, for example, "you're coming from Sandy, you show your cultural event ticket, and you get here for free, on TRAX or UTA."

Grant hopes his plan will continue post-Games. "Wouldn't it be a fine legacy," he said, if any ticket to a performance could also provide a free ride to the theater? "It's not a huge task."

So far UTA has committed to providing free rides only to Olympic sporting events, spokesman Kris McBride said. "We're currently negotiating with SLOC to include the arts events," he added. "We haven't begun such a negotiation" to extend the free-rides-to-culture policy after February 2002.

"We encourage people to ride transit," McBride said, but money to keep light rail and buses running has to come from somewhere.

Tickets to some Olympic Arts Festival events will be free, according to Grant. The enormous sculptures by Allan Houser will be brought to the City-County Building for a free public exhibition; Frederica Von Stade and the King's Singers will each perform in free concerts with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Visual art events, including the Brian and Joe Show and Women Beyond Borders, will be free at Access Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City. So will the display of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

As for the prices of Olympic performances by the Utah Opera, Ballet West and the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Grant said "they're within $4 of what you would pay today" to see those groups.

Tickets to performances by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, jazz artists Billy Taylor and Marcus Roberts, Itzhak Perlman and the Utah Symphony and the

Favorite Poem Project are much higher, Grant acknowledged. But like the Olympic sporting events, these are a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to see the world's best come together close to home.

The Cultural Olympiad, which has a privately funded budget of $6 million, is "the night life of the Games," Grant said. It's also "designed to attract national attention to the extraordinary work done in this community . . . to celebrate and embrace the West."

Some 25,000 members of the news media will land here in a year, Grant added. Many will be unaccredited, with "no hope of a ticket to a sporting event, no hope of an interview with an athlete." What are they going to write about? "I would argue they're going to write about polygamy. They're going to look for the traffic jams."

The Olympic Arts Festival, Grant hopes, will instead dazzle reporters with a breadth of alternatives — and debunk myths about the West.

The "Utah's First Nations" project at the Utah Museum of Natural History explores eight American Indian cultures; the American Folk Ballet will dance at the Capitol Theatre; the Pioneer Theatre Company will stage Olympic-commissioned plays about the American West; "Why the Cowboy Sings" and "Discover Navajo" will be presented alongside shows by sculptor Dale Chihuly and folk legend Pete Seeger.

But Grant admitted that "we would like to have done more" with local arts groups. "Clearly we did not do enough."

His efforts to collaborate with the Utah Arts Council failed to include all of the organizations that want to be part of the Olympic celebration, he said. "In some cases, the ethnic communities are not organized . . . and they are marginalized in terms of their relationship with the Arts Council. But I would love to see multiple communities represented during the Games, and there's still a lot of time to do it."

SLOC did make 30 grants of $1,550 to $3,000 each to help Utah arts organizations stage events across the state in 2002, Grant said.