Salt Lake City is taking a major step in restoring the vitality of State Street, acting between 600 South and 800 South. Moving from planning to implementation, critical investments in the streetscape and pedestrian environment will begin to transform State Street’s identity in 2023.
The public art program continually seeks new ways of integrating artwork into everyday life in our urban surroundings and as part of this effort, the Art Design Board selected the Life on State project as a site for future public art in Salt Lake City. Life on State will feature eight artist designs that will be adapted into neon signs and placed atop 10 foot high steel posts. In total, four posts will be constructed along the east and west portions of State Street and each post will feature two unique artworks (front and back).
This public art project seeks to contribute to the symbolism of State Street, build upon its historical significance, and strengthen a unique sense of identity through art. This project will expand the richness of Salt Lake City’s public art collection by introducing a minimally-represented and iconic medium into our collection – light! State Street has a rich cultural history that once featured an incredible number of iconic neon and light-based signs that lent color, vibrancy, and personality to the urban environment. Life on State will strengthen this unique sense of identity.
When developing this call for artists, importance was placed on supporting emerging and underrepresented artists by providing a public art project structure that enables their participation. This project received 95 unique proposals from 61 individual artists; 49 artists indicated they have never been commissioned by our program in the past and 28 artists identified themselves as first-time applicants.
The following Utah-based artists and their designs were selected by the Art Design Board for the Life on State public art project. Seven out of the eight selected artists are first-time commissioned artists by our program. Below, they’ve shared their inspiration for their designs:
“My neon sign illustrates an anecdote my grandmother told to distract me while crossing the street’s intimidatingly wide lanes. She said State Street was designed to provide room for an ox cart to make a U-turn and continue their journey in the opposite direction. I never forgot this little glimpse into the past. Now I get to share it with everyone who passes by in glowing neon. ”
“My family would often take a weekend trip to Salt Lake City, driving up State Street for dim sum…I remember the excitement of heading to the city and spending time with my family.”
“[This design] incorporates several easily recognizable traditional Polynesian tribal patterns that I believe will foster a sense of belonging and pride in the neighborhood amongst Pacific Islanders…I chose to create these patterns using a rainbow color scheme because rainbows are historically connected to both the Hawaiian community and the LGBTQ+ community…”
“The Great Basin rattlesnake reminds us that despite our urban landscape, the awesome power of wilderness remains ever-present. In addition, it evokes the wild and braggadocious tattoo culture whose historic home is on State Street.”
“This design remembers the Paper Moon, Salt Lake City’s only lesbian bar. The pink moon from their logo is centered above rainbow stripes which recall the stripes that were painted on the asphalt outside of the bar’s front door. This neon sign is in tribute to the space we once had and to the local lesbian community.”
“One of my favorite aspects of State Street is its unique automotive culture and being able to see incredible low-riders showcased as they drive up and down the street throughout the year.”
“The butterflies in this piece represent migration and transformation. State Street was built on native land that sustained many Indigenous peoples, land that has been traveled by Mormon oxcarts and Mexican taco carts…The heart represents…how we have all adjusted and changed with these movements.”
“[This piece] positively evokes movement and references Salt Lake City’s burgeoning downtown culture and night life.”
Check out more of these artists’ work on Instagram:
Emma Ryder (@_emmaryder_), Valerie Jar (@valeriejardesign), Kalani Tukuafu (@kalanitonga.designs), Ryan Perkins (@bigfunslc), Liz Shattler (@lizshattler), Alex Billany (@alexbillany), Veronica Perez (@artistveronicaperez), and Chuck Landvatter (@chuckdillah).
Follow along as Life on State comes together on Instagram at @slc_publicartprogram. You can learn more at www.saltlakepublicart.org, www.saltlakearts.org, and www.lifeonstate.com.
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