The roundabout at 900 South and 1100 East will welcome a new public artwork this year – and it is sure to make a splash. Stephen Kesler’s Out of the Blue was recommended by Salt Lake City’s Art Design Board for commission, and approved by Mayor Erin Mendenhall. The artwork is a full-size sculpture of a humpback whale breaching out of the roundabout, offering viewers what Kesler describes as, “a forty foot wide whale hug.” The sculpture will host murals created by different artists on a rotating basis, to reflect the dynamic and transforming nature of the neighborhood.

Out of the Blue is designed to complement and augment the unique identity of the 9th and 9th area, celebrating a community that is welcoming and stands for respect. Kesler explains, “9th and 9th is unexpected and out of the blue. A community where people from all backgrounds, beliefs and ideas migrate and feel a sense of belonging. A community that bursts through expectations; commanding respect for nature, others’ ideas and identities…” This humpback whale is a symbol of community, resilience, and harmony.

The design was influenced by input from the 9th and 9th community. The Public Art Program collaborated with the East Liberty Park Community Organization to release a survey to residents and visitors to the 9th and 9th area, which solicited community input on the artwork through questions like “What is a public artwork that speaks to you?” and “What would you like an artist to know about the 9th and 9th neighborhood?” Over 100 responses were provided to Kesler to help inform his proposal, as did his own experiences working in the area throughout his career.

In an innovative public art project structure, Out of the Blue will host a rotating program of murals on its surface, allowing new interpretations of the artwork throughout its lifespan. The 9th and 9th area is itself a dynamic and transforming neighborhood, and the mural component of this project is meant to amplify that energy and allow the artwork to respond to those changes over time. The first mural will be commissioned later this year.

Kesler’s realistic representations of animals are known for their rigorous attention to detail and gorgeous exploration of form. His portfolio includes work at the Hogle Zoo and Living Planet Aquarium that has delighted and impressed viewers. Out of the Blue will be hand sculpted from recyclable foam, and then made from fiberglass around a steel frame. Given its location in a roundabout, Out of the Blue is meant to be experienced truly ‘in the round,’ offering the viewer engaging perspectives from any angle.

The Art Design Board selected the roundabout for public art funding in 2019, and it represents the first percent-for-art public art commission in Salt Lake City’s District 5 since 2016. The Design Board solicited applications from Utah artists through two open ‘request for qualifications’ processes, and reviewed proposals designed by finalists. The artwork will be fabricated during the summer of 2021 and installed in the fall.

Follow along as Out of the Blue comes to life at @slc_publicartprogram and @stephenkesler_tusk.