Salt Lake City murals have been slowly but steadily creeping their way along the downtown streets, turning SLC into a street art city to watch.
I grew up in Salt Lake City and, while I no longer live there, I visit frequently. Each visit is a blink in time, and my time-lapsed visual has become flooded with murals.
What’s going on there isn’t like what you’ll find in New York City or London’s Shoreditch. Those cities each have a longstanding graffiti culture that evolved from 1980’s hip hop scene, with commissioned murals living alongside guerrilla graffiti and stickers. Rather, Salt Lake’s downtown core and the adjacent South Salt Lake district are a bit more like Nashville, with a modern movement of commissioned, murals and Instagrammable wall art.
With a few exceptions, the the ethic is very low to the ground and local, with SLC mural artists playing an important role.
Downtown Salt Lake City Murals
All of this public art is consistent with Salt Lake’s commitment to growing its downtown arts culture. They’ve designated The Blocks, (50 blocks of downtown core) as a cultural district. In addition to the street art, the blocks house Salt Lake’s performing arts theaters, galleries and an assortment of public art installations.
Derek Dyer of the Utah Arts Alliance, has confirmed that the street art culture has been on a slow burn for the past ten years. It started organically but was helped by the establishment of the Urban Arts festival, which usually occurs in September. It features music, dance, food and live mural painting. During the festival, the Arts Alliance invites 10-12 (mostly local but some international) artists to come and paint.
The festival has a role in making a “…dynamic impact in this community through street art and mural art.” and Dyer see feels that “this is the contemporary art form that is happening in our community now.”
There is still a bit of renegade graffiti, particularly just west of I-15 and under the freeway underpasses. But the Arts Alliance is “trying to change the culture to make it more friendly for street art” while also teaching the artists to have a respectful ethic relative to private property.
Here are some of the coolest downtown Salt Lake City murals:
The Gateway Center is working on transforming itself from a retail ghost town into a keystone of the downtown arts district. There are quite a few smaller street art pieces there (pay attention to the stairways), but this large piece by Madrid artist Dourone is the show stopper.
There is a cluster of graffiti, gritty street art and hidden murals located around 1st South and 6th West. This includes a number of pieces on the Arts Alliance building and surrounding bars and industrial buildings.
This 6th South underpass was a community art project curated by Lesly Allen, who is now with the South Salt Lake Arts Council. It was designed to create public awareness around the challenges facing homeless youth. The kids themselves were engaged to collaborate with the artists. These pillars are just a block west of the Salt Lake City mural, so if you are doing the selfie there, walk west to see these.
If you like the idea of street art with a community conscience, check out a similar project in San Diego’s Chicano Park with even taller overpass murals that are all about Latino culture.
Covey also has a featured below in South Salt Lake. Her artwork plays with the shapes and spaces of curving lines and overlapping objects and her pieces have an organic mosaic sensibility. She chose the festive atmosphere of this piece because it sits on the receiving bay of the Eccles theater.
There is another cluster of murals bounded by 2nd-3rd South and Edison Street. The series above by Chris Peterson covers a long three panel section of the alleyway. The one below by Dave Arcade is worth spending a lot of time de-coding because there weiner dogs, unicorns, 80’s arcade games and some seriously wacky tacos featured.
This next series hits the molten lava core of my cultural wheelhouse: street art, books and liberal identity politics. I could not ask for a cluster of murals more likely to make me tingle with glee.
The book mural above as well as the two below can all be found festooning Ken Saunder’s Rare Books. Saunders is quite a character. During the 70’s, he was part owner in Salt Lake’s only psychedelic head shop. He also opened his rare book shop during that time and the store is one the oldest bookstores in Salt Lake. Saunders is also kinda famous for doggedly tracking down a rare book thief, which you can read about in The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.
He supports local artists and liberal politics and has made an effort to brings those things together on his walls. This block may be slated for development, so don’t wait to check out the murals.
For context, Bears Ears National Monument is a lovely patch of culturally fragile red rock country in southeastern Utah. The monument was established by President Obama, and then summarily reduced by President Trump. Obama’s effort was supported by a coalition of conservationists, archaeologists and local Native American tribes, so the Trump’s reduction of the conservation area is a sore spot with many Utahns.
The other murals on that wall celebrate union activists and iconoclasts.
South Salt Lake City Street Art
The downtown core isn’t the only place to find cool murals in Salt Lake. South Salt Lake is immediately south of downtown and is a city in itself. In the past, it was more known for its streetwalkers than street art. However, the city is gentrifying and their master plan deliberately makes room for art and creative businesses
For instance, South Salt Lake modified its zoning ordinance to encourage micro breweries. This has helped to fuel heaps of cool breweries in Salt Lake, which in turn are fostering a spill-over effect to music venues and restaurants.
According to Lesly Allen, their master plan is fostering a “creative industries zone”. In her role as the Executive Director of the SSLC Arts Council, she is an arts ambassador to local businesses and the creative muscle behind The Mural Fest. I do love me a street art festival and have fangirled my way through Upfest in Bristol UK and the POW!WOW! festival in Honolulu’s Kaka’ako neighborhood. I was delighted to find that a neighborhood that used to be characterized by dusty warehouses was investing so mindfully in public art.
Lesly was kind enough to give me a walking tour along with the down lo on the South Salt Lake City murals. The Mural Fest has a modest goal to curate 10 murals a year, with the intent that they can stay up for the medium or long-term. Pulling that off is a bit tricky in this neighborhood because it’s in the throes of a major development boom. And while that’s good for the city’s economic base, the development also putting gentrification pressure on existing businesses, which puts the walls at risk.
Fortunately, the breweries, bike shops, welders and other creative businesses are all over the murals.
Here’s what you’ll find there:
Chris Peterson’s blue and purple murals aren’t just in the downtown core. He’s also has some work up in SSLC. He and Chuck Landvatter have a complementary color scheme going at Shades Brewing and nearby Cre8 studios.
This piece by Billy Hensler can be found at the Commonwealth Room, a local music venue. In the spirit of local cooperation, the nearby brew pubs and distilleries have synced their scheduled to the Commonwealth’s music line-up in order to encourage a glow of customers between the businesses.
Josh, you had me at gnomes. Because, apparently in addition to the ones living on my front porch, gnomes and other “garden art that doesn’t suck” are living at Sugarpost Metal. Someone buy me a Christmas present from this place.
The 2019 Mural Fest celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike Empire. For you Yankees and Southerners, the Golden Spike signified the completion of the transcontinental railroad, just north of Salt Lake. It was a major moment in Utah’s development and, not ironically, this mural sits along a light rail corridor.
Where to Find the Murals
Rather than designing my own map of street art in Salt Lake City, I’m going to give you some general advice on where to stroll and then link out to two excellent sources.
For the downtown core, here are four strolling options:
- Start at the Utah Arts Alliance and go east along 1st South to the Gateway. Then wander around.
- Look for a cluster of murals on Main Street between 1st and 3rd South, checking parking lots and side streets.
- Definitely hit up the block bordering 2nd and 3rd South at Edison street. This includes the Ken Saunders bookstore.
- Look for another cluster between 7th-8th South at 3rd West (near Fisher Brewing).
For South Salt Lake:
- Park near Shades Brewing. Lap the block between West Temple and 21st South to Utopia Ave. Fortify yourself with some beer. Then go south on West Temple, taking excursions (east) on both Bowers and Senior Way.
If you are visual. Then bookmark this excellent map from Sean Means of the Salt Lake Tribune.
If you are just focused on South Salt Lake, then use this this map from the Mural Fest.
Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City
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