Category Archives: arts

No One Likes A Boring Neighborhood

As some people know, Laura and I have been staying with my parents in Cedar Hills for the last little bit as we figure out our living situation in response to my job at the Tribune.

Living in Cedar Hills makes a lot of sense for us; Laura can walk to work and because I have to have a car anyway, it makes the most sense for me to drive (as opposed to Laura) to the office.

But here’s the thing, Cedar Hills is so soul-crushingly boring we would never consider living there, no matter how convienient it was. Seriously, not long ago we had a 30 minute discussion about whether we should walk to the Walmart — the only thing within walking distance — and wander around, or if we should just sit around doing nothing. That pretty much sums up our choices. There aren’t even any non-chain restaurants within biking distance.

This is a familiar experience to many people living in single-use, suburban style neighborhoods, but some cities may be underestimating the importance of liveliness as a selling point.

To that end, The Washington Post and Planetizen recently ran a couple of posts on becoming “hip” to attract young professionals:

The panel, whose members are still being recruited, will consider everything from loosened liquor laws and noise ordinances to relaxed regulations covering urban amenities that connect people: food trucks, cafes, outdoor movies. “You have to make the county more appealing,” Leggett said. “You have to make sure that sense of vitality is there.”

This is similar to the theory of change promoted for the past decade by University of Toronto urbanist Richard Florida, who says cities can regenerate economically by attracting a robust “creative class.” That means young professionals in technology fields along with musicians, artists, gay people, writers and creative elites he calls “high bohemians.”

This is standard “creative class” stuff that I’ve covered over and over on this blog, but the point still remains: fostering vitality is as important as anything if you want people to actually live in your city.

Provo's 100 Block — or the area around Velour — is often bustling. But a successful city can't have just one cool spot (that appeals to a small group at that). This type of vitality needs to be studied and encouraged all over.

Provo’s 100 Block — or the area around Velour — is often bustling. But a successful city can’t have just one cool spot (that appeals to a small group at that). This type of vitality needs to be studied and encouraged all over.

Provo does a fair job at this, all things considered, but I still know a lot of people who leave Provo or won’t consider it in the first place, because there’s nothing for them to do. The more time I spend in Salt Lake the more of these people I meet, and I’m surprised when I find myself agreeing that there probably isn’t anything for them in Provo. If you don’t want to play in an indie band or see very Mormon jokes, what is there to do really? Relatedly, if you’re older than, say, 26, there’s also not much for you to do.

I once even had a friend who even gave Provo a try, but moved up to Salt Lake less than a year later — despite working in Provo — because there was no social scene.

There are a few lessons. For example, Provo needs a more diverse “hip” atmosphere. A great music scene doesn’t appeal to everyone and can be hard to break into, so there need to be many more options. And it’s not impossible for civic and business leaders to cultivate a more diverse cultural environment.

It’s also worth considering the LDS single adult scenes in south Salt Lake County. They’re legendary and Provo loses people to those areas. For people who are not LDS, there is even less to do in Provo.

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“I Do Not Care,” Says New Street Art

A friend recently alerted me to a charming new piece of street art in central Provo:

A photo taken by a friend.

A photo taken by a friend.

I haven’t had a chance to see this piece in person yet, but apparently it’s on 100 East, between 100 and 200 South. When I plugged it into Google Translate, I was told “je m’en fiche” means “I do not care” in French. However, “je men fiche” apparently means “I plug men.” I think I see an apostrophe in there, but I suppose each viewer will have to decide which translation is truer to her/himself.

I’ve written many times before about guerrilla art, most often in the case of Leuven, and I think it’s fair to say I’m a fan of it when it’s interesting, beautiful or intellectually stimulating in some way. I’d say this piece fits the bill and makes Provo just a little bit more delightful.

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Provo Police Battle Banksy’s Legacy

Someone decided to create an “authorized graffiti area” in Provo, and the police spent Tuesday cleaning it up. My colleague Genelle Pugmire writes that the work was likely inspired by well-known graffiti artist Banksy:

[Police special operations coordinator Jana-Lee] Haigh believes the stencil idea was influenced by a 2010 documentary at the Sundance Film Festival on Banksy, a British graffiti artist whose art is typically a commentary on politics and society.

“After they screened the movie, stenciled graffiti went up in Park City,” Haigh said.

No matter what the graffiti says or looks like, Provo’s policy is to paint over or power wash graffiti within 48 hours, according Haigh.

I suspect most street artists knew about Banksy before the Sundance movie about him, but there’s no doubt that the Provo piece was inspired by that world famous artist. Daily Herald photographer James Roh took a picture of the piece, which can be viewed along with the article.

Part of a piece by Leuven that went up in June.

Part of a piece by Leuven that went up in June.

I’ve written repeatedly about street art on this blog, most often about the work of wheat-paste extraordinaire Leuven. My feeling has always been that while questionably legal street art can enrich a community and elicit thought-provoking experiences from otherwise boring places.

But it is controversial, as The Atlantic Cities recently pointed out:

Street art has long had a strained relationship with the public, with illegal graffiti and tags considered symbols of urban decay. But that relationship has become more complicated as a new generation of street artists teams up with officials and businesses on legally sanctioned projects to revitalize public space.

That article packs a lot of information, much of it about Atlanta, but the idea that emerges is that street art is increasingly recognized as a potential positive force in certain situations.

In Provo, moreover, a young and fast-growing population means there will not likely be a decrease in the number of artists willing to go out and use other people’s blank walls for canvases. Police can fight that trend, but it might also be worth officially embracing it with just the sort of authorized area that someone recently invented.

The entire piece includes images of two people looking at each other.

The entire piece includes images of two people looking at each other.

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He’s Just Happy To Be Here

I recently heard this quote (which I’m paraphrasing, at best), though I don’t know the source: “Rome is loved because it’s great, but it’s great because first it was loved.”

I think the same could be said about Provo and there are few people who epitomize that idea better than musician Chance Lewis.

I first wrote about Chance a year ago, when he released “Underdog.” In February, I also wrote about Apt, Chance’s collaborator and fellow rapper, who coined the now common place-name “100 Block.”

Chance, Apt, and a whole bunch of other Provo musicians at a Rooftop Concert this summer.

This Wednesday, Chance will be releasing his latest effort “We’re Just Happy To Be Here.” The show has already garnered a bunch of press; last week it was featured in City Weekly, on C. Jane’s blog, and in the Daily Herald. Between those links you can find all the relevant information, and even hear several tracks.

I recommend going to this show because if past experience is any indication, it’ll be awesome.

But if you’re still sitting on the fence remember the quote about Rome.  On this blog I constantly write about ways to make Provo cooler, more accommodating to future generations, and generally more vibrant. The possible strategies are endless and too often, I think, the focus is on big building projects or massive design ideas.

But Chance and Apt are showing how a city really becomes great: they’re living here and making really great music. So someday, when someone loves Provo because it’s great, it’ll be in part because at one point these musicians opted to live here and make it amazing.

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How to Fill a Vacant Lot in Provo

On Thanksgiving day I went on a walk downtown with several family members. When we passed the vacant lot I mentioned in this post, we discovered that it had become the home of several large wooden spools. Then, a few days after I wrote this post about a similar lot in Salt Lake City, my friend Josh Yost sent me a couple of great pictures of the spools.

Spools in a vacant lot on Center Street.

Another view of the spools.

When my family and I happened on these spools, we weren’t sure what to make of them. Were they just discarded trash? Were they a guerrilla art installation? Could we mess with them without getting in trouble?

Apparently we could, because we did. Laura even tried to walk on one while it was rolling, sort of like a cartoon character.

More importantly, these simple additions show how easy it is to draw people into a space and make it interactive. I’m not sure if this was intended as art. And either way it’s less visually arresting than the piece in the Salt Lake lot.

But it’s also more interactive. While the Salt Lake example invites users to walk through it and maybe touch it, this is all about moving things around. It’s like a giant set of wooden blocks for adults (and kids). And ultimately, it took a relatively ugly spot and made it a place for human interaction and exploration, which is really the goal of any public space.

That’s not to say this is suddenly a beautiful spot. It’s not. And adding discarded spools is not generally going to solve the world’s placemaking challenges. But despite these shortcomings this site shows how little additions to a space can make a big difference.

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Art in a Vacant Lot

While wandering around Salt Lake City last week, I saw the art installation in the pictures below. It’s made up of rows of black PVC pipe and is interactive; visitors can walk through the pipes, touch them, and pretty much do anything they want.

A PVC art installation in an undeveloped Salt Lake City lot.

The same installation, looking in a different direction.

Provo has similar vacant lots, which I’ve written about previously. I suggested installing a zen garden in downtown Provo, but this example from Salt Lake shows how a little creativity (and an artist) can create an interesting space that calls out for attention, rather than repelling visitors. And truthfully, I like this idea better than the one I proposed for Provo.

It’s also worth mentioning that the lot is slated for development as a dance academy. Still, someone invested in the installation and created a memorable place in the city.

Someday this installation will be replaced with the building on the left of this rendering.

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Provo Music Scene Rankings

In a piece about music, Richard Florida reported today on the per capita popularity of various music scenes. Though the article doesn’t link to the source data and doesn’t mention Provo specifically, the city does show up as a dot on various maps. That in itself is an accomplishment; there are other cities that don’t show up at all or that show up as smaller dots.

But what’s really worth mentioning is the last map included in the article:

This map shows a “Music Popularity Index per capita,” which basically means the popularity of a music scene as represented through Myspace balanced by the population of that scene’s metro area.

Concert goers wait outside Velour for a show.

Though the Provo metro area isn’t a top 20 city — which are all mentioned by name — it is shaded in dark green. That puts it in the same in general category is Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Denver and big parts of both coasts. It beats a whole lot of other cities.

Keep in mind also that this data was collected in 2007 via Myspace. That predates a massive amount of growth in Provo’s music scene that includes several bands — Neon Trees, Fictionist — getting record deals, the explosion of the Rooftop Concert Series and a number of older professional acts coming to the Covey Center. If this data were collected today, Provo would probably do even better.

The Covey Center often hosts larger touring acts.

I wish I had access to the actual data because it’s hard to tell from the map alone how different music scenes in Utah were divvied up. The color-coded categories are also pretty broad so it’s difficult to discern how Provo actually compares to other cities. In the end, I’m just making inferences here. (Via Twitter I have asked Richard Florida to tell me Provo’s specific ranking, though I’m probably about as likely to get a reply as my teenage sister is when she tweets at One Direction.)

But in any case, Provo is literally on the map. It actually does have a nationally competative music scene. And that means a more attractive city that will entice more people to call it home.

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Street Art Invasion

Friday night was Gallery Stroll in Provo, and with it came a new wave of street art. Much of it was the product of a BYU art class project, though I have no idea if my favorite piece was part of that group or not:

A piece of street art at the historic court house seems to have been inspired by Space Invaders, or possibly Invader.

Close up of the Space Invaders art.

While the pictures above were taken along University Ave, most of the art was clustered along Center Street. The picture below, for example, was taken outside Sora.

Shards of broken glass and ceramic appear to leak out of a pipe.

Shoes in a row along Center Street. These shoes remained on the sidewalk a bit longer than some of the other exhibits.

If you’re interested, I wrote in July that street art can actually play an important role in making a city successful. In May, I also wrote about why street art is generally good for a city, despite debates over its legitimacy.

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Adieu, Rooftop Concerts

The last Rooftop Concert of the year happens tonight and features the Lower Lights, The Folka Dots and Seafinch. As with all Rooftop Concerts, this one should fantastic, though my experience is that the last show of the year is always a little bit extra special. The cooler weather, earlier sunset, and the plethora of sweaters make the event just a little more cozy. It’s the big autumnal concert of the year in a place that has amazing autumns.

The guide (link in the first sentence) has a complete run down. Though many of us, myself included, have a tendency to simply consume these events, it’s especially worth taking a look at the section of the guide about keeping the concerts going. They’re not just inevitable but rather take a lot of hard work as well as community investment. Meaning money, among other things.

And speaking of investment, I thought it might be a good time to review why these concerts are worth having in the first place. The obvious answer, of course, is that they’re fun and enjoyable.

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve written before about the concept of “mystique,” or the allure and reputation of a city. It’s a hard thing to pin down, but research shows that young people tend to gravitate toward “cooler,” “hipper” cities. In other words, places that have things like the Rooftop Concert Series.

For young people, that means a more exciting place to live. For people of all ages, however, it means a more vibrant, economically stable city.

If that wasn’t enough, research also shows that a strong music scene itself can make a city more vibrant. In the past, I’ve equated this idea to what The Atlantic Cities called the Opera House Effect — wherein financial investment in the arts pays big economic dividends way down the line. But the idea is really more broad: bolstering the arts simply makes communities better all around. The arts ultimately revitalize cities, make for better business, and draw visitors.

As the post in that last link explains, art really is an investment, not a luxury. And when it comes to the Rooftop Concerts, that investment happens to be a whole lot of fun as well.

A vertiable who’s who of Provo music takes the stage during the set of Chance Lewis and Apt at a Rooftop concert earlier this year.

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The Arts and Economic Growth

Every few weeks there’s a new story illustrating the correlation between investment in the arts and prosperity. This time, the story comes from Philadelphia.

According to Philly.com — which seems to be affiliated with the Philadelphia Inquirer — a new study revealed that cultural activity in the Philadelphia area supports 44,000 jobs and generates $170 million in state and local taxes. The article also mentions that the arts support tens of thousands of jobs in Houston and Washington D.C. as well.

Philadelphia’s “chief cultural officer” — a position more cities should consider creating — summed up the lesson of this information, which applies to cities everywhere:

“We need to be invested more in the sector,” he said, speaking of government dollars. “Investment in the culture sector is investment that’s returned back to citizens and back to the treasury.” It is, he said, “a real economic-development investment.”

These points reminded me of a recent economic development meeting I attended. During the meeting, a couple of consultants were trying to figure out what Provo could do to spur more economic growth. There are many possible strategies to accomplish that goal, but as Philadelphia — as well as several previous posts — demonstrate, the arts are one thing with a proven track record of success.

The Covey Center for the Arts in downtown.

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