Out of the Blue by artist Stephen Kesler is the public artwork commissioned for the roundabout at 900 South and 1100 East. Initial information on the project can be found here.

Will the addition of public art to the roundabout impact garden gnomes that have been placed there?

While a temporary relocation for a safe installation will likely occur, we don’t see any reason why public art and gnomes can’t co-exist.

I heard the sculpture will be forty feet tall, is that true?

The sculpture will be 23 feet tall. Additionally, the span of the pectorals will remain a couple of feet within the inner curb of the roundabout.

Will the sculpture be white? I am concerned about vandalism.

The sculpture will be painted with a rotating program of murals. That means that every several years a new artist or artist team will repaint the sculpture, allowing the artwork to transform and be re-interpreted over time. The project was designed this way to reflect the dynamism and transformation of the 9th and 9th neighborhood, and to allow the public art in the area to remain current with the neighborhood. Murals tend to defer graffiti more effectively than blank surfaces, and murals on this artwork will also be finished with an anti-graffiti coating to allow for easy cleaning if the need should arise. The first mural will be commissioned in a call for artists opening later in 2021 and we anticipate the first mural occurring concurrently with installation of the sculpture.

Is it safe to have artwork in a roundabout?

Salt Lake City’s Transportation and Engineering departments have been involved at every stage of this process – from the selection of the roundabout as a site for artwork, through the development of proposals and selection of the commission – to make sure that the answer to this question is YES! Public art commissioned by the City conforms to public safety standards and best practices, and is compliant with the ADA, transportation guidelines and engineering requirements. From the Salt Lake City Department of Transportation:

“Roundabout best practice indicates that central island landscaping should follow these principles from Chapter 9 of Federal Highway Administration’s “Roundabouts: An Informational Guide:

  • Make the central island more conspicuous, thus improving safety
  • Place fixed objects that are sensitive to the speed environment
  • Avoid obstructing the form of the roundabout or the signing to the driver
  • Clearly indicate to drivers that they cannot pass straight through the intersection
  • Maintain adequate sight distances

This final point should be clarified more, using guidance from Chapter 6. Being able to see the people walking and bicycling in approaches and exits of the roundabout, as well as the motor vehicle traffic to the motorists’ left, are what constitute the “sight distances” and “sight lines” in that document.

  • International evidence suggests that it is advantageous to provide no more than the minimum required intersection sight distance on each approach. Excessive sight distance can lead to higher vehicle speeds that reduce the safety of the intersection for all road users.” Landscaping within the central island can be effective in restricting sight distance to the minimum requirements while creating a terminal vista on the approach to improve visibility of the central island.
  • The [central] island is typically landscaped for aesthetic reasons and to enhance driver recognition of the roundabout upon approach.”

 In short, being able to see through the roundabout is not required, and is often discouraged, by Federal Highway Administration. As the project progresses, Engineering and Transportation Department stakeholders will continue to be involved in the project, including input into the mural surfaces, to ensure maximum traffic and pedestrian safety.

How is the Salt Lake City public art program funded?

In 1984, Salt Lake City established the Percent for Art ordinance, allocating 1% of eligible City project funds to commission artists for site-specific artwork to be integrated into new construction projects. The ordinance also created a community advisory board, the Art Design Board, to oversee the public art process and recommend artists to the Mayor for commission. Recognizing the social and economic benefits realized through an aesthetic experience in public spaces, the public art program’s purpose is to add high quality, site-specific artists’ work to the natural and built environments. Public art is an investment in our artists, communities, City, and economy – and is among many priorities the City supports.

How was this artwork selected?

The Art Design Board allocated public art funding to the roundabout. Public art program staff connected with the Chair of the East Liberty Park Community Organization (ELPCO) and attended an East Liberty Park Community Organization meeting to talk with attendees about their goals for an artwork at the site. A small group of residents and artists coordinated with help from ELPCO also met with staff at the Salt Lake City Arts Council as part of this process. In December of 2019, the public art program issued an open call for artists and held a public information session on the opportunity in January 2020. After a competitive application process, the public art program solicited designs from three finalists. The call for artists was re-released in September of 2020, so that the project could be re-envisioned to include the potential for changeable murals. This allows the artwork to respond to the dynamic nature of the neighborhood and to feedback given by residents. ELPCO and the Public Art Program partnered to release a survey of the 9th and 9th neighborhood soliciting input on the artwork, which was provided to artists to help inform their designs. Another open info session on the opportunity was held in October of 2020. In public Art Design Board meetings in November 2020 and February 2021, finalists were selected from applicants to propose designs for the project and Stephen Kesler’s Out of the Blue was selected in a unanimous vote by the Board for recommendation to the Mayor. Mayor Mendenhall approved the Board’s recommendation on March 3, 2021. In all, from autumn 2019 to the present, the project was discussed in seven public Art Design Board meetings, two public info sessions, at an East Liberty Park Community Organization meeting, and through a community survey which received over 100 responses.

This particular proposal by Stephen Kesler was selected based on the goals set out in the request for qualifications developed in collaboration with various stakeholders. Out of the Blue was 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.

Is it concerning that people have different opinions about this work of art?

Public art tends to surface many different views, opinions, and artistic preferences. We are appreciative of the community’s energy in reaching out to share these with us. For example, since this artwork was selected for commission, we’ve heard from community members that would prefer artwork in the 900 South Roundabout to reflect windmills, trolley cars, beehives, bees, a snowboarder, wildflowers, elk, a bald eagle, trees, a moose, a mountain, a fountain, a cougar, a wolf and Seraph Young Ford.

We are excited to see the level of engagement in response to the commission. We echo ELCPO Chair Jason Stevenson in saying, “Let’s remember that art is subjective. Some people like gnomes. Some people like whales. Some people like trees. Not everyone will like every piece of public art installed in the City. That’s why the City has a public art selection process (via the Art Design Board which includes members from across the city and diverse artistic backgrounds) that they followed for this installation.”

The Public Art Program strives to strike a careful balance between supporting professional artists in doing what they do best – creating conversation-sparking, aesthetic, meaningful artwork – and being responsive to the artistic sensibilities of many different community members. That’s why this process blends community input and the commission of a professional, practicing artist who has a substantial portfolio and the experience to execute the opportunity. The process of selecting a work of public art is not a solitary one, but a collaborative endeavor with many stakeholders. This particular artwork is designed to transform over time through the addition of a changing program of murals painted on the surface of the sculpture.

Why public art? (I was hoping for a tree!):

Public art has social, cultural, and economic value. Public art can surprise us, it can incite joy, activate our imagination-or ask questions of us, it can be a mirror or a lens for culture and reflect our community values or aspirations, or maybe a shared history. It often brings people together and invigorates communities in active and dynamic cultural scenes. And it enhances the unique sense of place and identity of a community. Outside of the many social and aesthetic benefits of public art, it is an important contributor to economic development and community sustainability. It makes our places more interesting and desirable to live, visit, or patronize. And, importantly, it’s accessible to everyone in the public right of way.

When can I expect to see Out of the Blue installed? (11/1/2021 update):

Commissioned artist Stephen Kesler will install Out of the Blue in the 9th South Roundabout in the spring of 2022 – April, to be more specific. Following the installation of the sculpture, Mike Murdock, who’s been commissioned to paint the inaugural mural onto the surface of the object, will be working directly on site.

Why is there fencing around Out of the Blue?

The fencing is temporarily installed around this piece during construction and installation of the work. Following completion, all fencing will be removed.

What is the cost of Out of the Blue?

This project was funded through our 1.5% for Public Art Program. In the fall of 2020, a call for artists was issued and proposals were accepted from qualified artists. For information about the sculptural call for artists, please click here. Following the successful commissioning of the sculptural artist, Stephen Kesler, our organization issued another call for artists, and proposals were accepted for muralists to paint the surface of Out of the Blue. For information about the mural call for artists, please click here. Within both links, you will find information about the cost for this project.

How can I submit my feedback on this commission and become more involved in public art going forward?

The best email to reach the public art program is . You can also call the Arts Council at (801) 596-5000. Please plan to leave a voicemail as we are working remotely due to the pandemic. All feedback is tracked and logged with our team and we appreciate folks taking the time to engage with us!

All Art Design Board meetings are open to the public – typically on the first Thursday of each month. Find agendas for upcoming meetings and guidance on public comment on Utah Public Notice. Additionally, consider joining the Arts Council newsletter here and follow us on Instagram and facebook at @slcartscouncil and @slc_publicartprogram. Stay in touch!


A rendering of the artwork Out of the Blue shows the sculpture of a humpback whale breaching in the 900 South Roundabout.