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Utah Arts Festival marks 40th anniversary

SALT LAKE CITY — This year marks a major milestone for the Utah Arts Festival.

In the midst of the festival's 40th anniversary, Gov. Gary Herbert has declared June 2016 to be Utah Arts Festival Month. According to a news release, the designation “illuminates the impact the festival has had over the past four decades.” The festival was also honored this spring with a 2016 Governor’s Leadership in the Arts Award and a 2016 Mayor’s Artist Award.

“Those (awards) were really great honors for the festival and in particular on this milestone anniversary for us,” said executive director Lisa Sewell. “To receive recognition from both the city as well as the state was tremendous. It was a tremendous honor and a nice cap to all of the history and number of years we have been working so diligently at this event.”

The Utah Arts Festival is set to return to downtown Salt Lake City from June 23-26 with over 160 artists and 300 performers set to appear this year at Library and Washington squares.

As a gift to visitors in honor of its 40th year, the festival will offer free admission on its opening day, Thursday, June 23, from noon to 11 p.m., according to the news release.

The festival was established in 1977 on Main Street by art patrons who wanted to bring more people into art galleries to experience the arts. They figured that to inspire them to engage in the arts, they had to bring the arts to the street, Sewell said.

“I think what has enabled it to continue on for this long is its ties to our faith and our community to foster the arts,” she said. “It is a community event that takes place every summer and engages our community with the artistic process and what the best Utah artists have.”

Making art accessible to everyone has been a core value of the festival’s mission and has helped keep the festival going, but leadership has played a huge role in the longevity of the festival as well, said public relations coordinator Susan Koles.

“Having that continuity of vision probably has really helped the longevity, and I would also say that the arts festival has continued to evolve,” she said. “It started out as this wonderful idea on Main Street, and it has grown. It has been very adaptable to its circumstances, and I think that has definitely been a plus.”

To keep the festival current, Koles said, festival organizers look for performers and artists who are new and different. Among the performers new to the festival this year is the Colombian joropo ensemble Cimarrón, which will perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Through their powerful, moody and unbridled sound, Cimarrón lives up to the meaning of their name: wild bull,” Koles said.

Neighbourhood Watch Stilts International is another group both Koles and Sewell are excited about. Hailing from Great Britain, the group of “extreme stilters” has performed at festivals worldwide since 1993, according to the news release.

“(They) are street theater performers,” Koles said. “They perform on stilts, and they will be really fun. Lisa (Sewell) and I are very excited for them to be here.”

The Utah Arts Festival is home to many kinds of art, from visual to performance to literary. According to the news release, festivalgoers can find more than 185 visual artists as well as dance performances, a film festival, hands-on projects and workshops, many kinds of music, literary presenters and food, as well as the Art Yard for kids, with a theme this year of “Into the Future!”

“I definitely encourage people to come down all four days because there are plenty of things to do and see that will engage them,” Sewell said. “I think the longevity and the depth the Utah Arts Festival has to offer has grown over the last 40 years and developed. It is a pretty unique experience as far as festivals of our size go in this country.”

More information about the festival, including a schedule of events, is available at

If you go …

What: 40th Anniversary Utah Arts Festival

When: June 23-26, noon-11 p.m.

Where: Washington and Library squares, 400 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City

How much: Daily admission costs $12 for adults, $6 for seniors and military, free for children 12 and under; admission is free for everyone on Thursday, June 23, and is $6 for everyone from noon-3 p.m. on Friday, June 24; four-day festival passes are available for $30

Phone: 801-322-2428