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Gallivan home for arts fest — for now

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After watching its audience slowly dry up at the Utah State Fairpark, the Utah Arts Festival went to the Salt Lake City Council this week asking for some moving money.

Director Robin Nelson received it: $42,700 in city funds that will help the festival go back to its original home of downtown Salt Lake City.

This June the UAF will spread across the Gallivan Utah Center, and "we're also hoping to use most of 300 South, between State and Main," Nelson said. "The people have spoken. They want us downtown."

"We've taken great pride in being self-sufficient," she added. But the Fairpark crowds were smaller, and the UAF became like most other arts organizations across the country: It needed help to recover.

The UAF began on Main Street in 1977; then it turned into a nationally known celebration of art, music, food and drink at the Triad Center. Some 90,000 people filled the small city of display and performance areas, soaking up the work of artists from across the Mountain West.

Then came construction of TRAX and The Gateway, so the festival went out to the Fairpark in 2000. By last summer, revenues had fallen by $150,000 and "we lost 40 percent of our audience," Nelson said.

The UAF won't stay at the Gallivan, she added. She hopes to take it to the new Library Square in summer 2003 — though part of the square remains, well, a blank canvas. The question of whether the east side of the library block will be open space or buildings is yet unanswered. Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson still has to win the City Council's endorsement of his open-space plan.

There will, however, be an amphitheater and other open space around the new Main Library building, which is scheduled to open next January. If the festival still can't fit, Nelson said it could occupy a temporarily closed 200 East and part of the Washington Square grounds around the City-County Building, under "all those trees — think of it: shade!"

Why not go straight to Washington Square now?

"It's fraught with problems as far as liquor sales," Nelson said. The annual Living Traditions festival has a beer garden, but UAF crowds have historically been able to purchase beer and wine and stroll around with it. Library Square might be a better bet, Nelson said. State liquor law prohibits alcohol near libraries — but perhaps new rules can be made for Anderson's new amphitheater and open space. "What we're thinking," said Nelson, "is that our special permit will negate the (alcohol) restrictions," since the UAF applies for a short-term liquor license for its Thursday-through-Sunday event.

Wherever the festival ultimately settles, Nelson will probably have to come back to the council during this spring's budget sessions and ask for more money for one more relocation.

The festival's Web site, www.uaf.org, already proclaims, "Back downtown! June 20-23, 2002."

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com