Emissary Spotlight: Imagining Salt Lake City

October 19/2015


USDAC Minister of Cultural Scholarship Paul Kuttner Reports & Is Interviewed by CityHomeCOLLECTIVE

It has been an exciting week for the USDAC, with Imagination Stations popping up all around the country. This past Wednesday, Salt Lake City got in on the action. The station was a partnership between a few different local groups that share an interest in public art and participatory community development. The event took place at the Sorenson Unity Center ArtPark, in front of a huge mural of the local river system painted by one of our partners, Chris Peterson. The Sorenson Unity Center is located on the city’s west side, a majority Latina/o and immigrant area that has often been marginalized from local decision-making. We set up four canopy tents on the ArtPark’s green grass, each sheltering a different activity from the severe Utah sun. Hanging in front of the foremost tent was our banner, with the hashtag #DareToImagine and the question: What are your dreams for your community?

Attendees had a few choices of activities when they arrived. At one tent, they could take part in photography project called “OurSLC Claim It!” which asks residents to make “claims” for what they want in their neighborhoods and public spaces. These claims will be used to inform four youth-created public art projects. At another tent, they could share a story with the West Side Storytelling Project, an oral history initiative collecting local stories for a new library special collection. At another tent, they could fill out a survey asking for their opinions about local development. Or they could grab a stone, write their dreams on it with oil pastels, and add it to a cairn being constructed in the Center’s Garden. Finally, if they were there at the right time, they could join a “walking conversation” to a nearby river confluence with Seven Canyons Trust and Jane Jacobs Walk.


We stayed out from 1:00pm to 7:00pm, hoping to catch different waves of people coming to the center. At some points it was a slow trickle, while at others there was a small rush. Things were the liveliest when, twice during the day, after-school programs at the nearby multicultural center came by. These elementary-aged young people enjoyed going from tent to tent, asking questions, writing on stones, and partaking of the free candy. OurSLC Claim It! had to leave at 4, so after that we switched to having people write their imaginings on a small chalkboard I borrowed from my three year old son. We closed out the day as the shadows were getting long. In the end, fifty-some people took part in the activities, offering thoughts from the playful (I #DareToImagine that I am Spiderman) to the profound (I #DareToImagine a safe place where my children can grow, learn, and become well-rounded adults). The ideas, claims, and stories shared during the day will live on—as part of the USDAC online collection, and as part of local arts projects. And, hopefully, the new relationships built among the partners will live on too, sparking future creative action for community change.


The following is the text of an interview with Paul entitled “#DareToImagine | Claiming Our Future,” which ran on 9 October on the CityHomeCOLLECTIVE site

We’re all for the expansion of this fair city. Where some see outsiders moving in and the terrifying notion of change, we see the opportunity for a rap sesh with a few fresh faces, both “new in town” and “established as hell”. One of the most crucial components of a successful city is its inhabitants’ ability to grow, and, subsequently, to have an open dialogue about the direction of said growth. And would you believe it? It’s almost as if the US Department of Arts and Culture has been reading our dear COLLECTIVE diary, ’cause that’s exactly the round table discussion they’ve conjured up with #DareToImagine: Claiming Our Future In SLC. The event, which takes place Wednesday, October 14th, is an opportunity for folks to gather and discuss the future they want for this salty town of ours. Organizers hope that through a range of activities–storytelling, photography, and a guided walk–attendees can begin “claiming spaces for our voices, our families, and our futures.” #DTI is “a part of a national week of action run by the US Department of Arts and Culture”, which is “the nation’s newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change.” You don’t need usto tell you that we’re in a full round o’ applause for that notion ’round these parts. The organization is rattling off a few of our favorite buzzwords, too: “radically-inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful” (yes, yes, and yes please), and they aim to “spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination.” Haven’t gotten involved in your community lately? Roll up your sleeves and get some social activism all up in those nail beds. We chatted with USDAC national cabinet member Paul Kuttner to get the lowdown on this local landscape-changing event. Listen up.


How do you fit in to all this? My role in this stems from the fact that I am on the USDAC’s national cabinet, my title is “Minister of Cultural Scholarship.” When the week of action was called, I began reaching out to see if anyone was interested in doing one in SLC.

And we’re ever-so-glad you did! Is this event for all residents of Salt Lake, or just those folks on the West Side? Everyone is welcome—they can discuss whatever communities they are a part of.

Will there be more of these events in other neighborhoods? This is the only SLC-based event during this week of action. However, there are hundreds around the country, and the USDAC will be calling for similar national actions in the future—perhaps next time we can get more partners to do multiple events if this one goes well.

Who will be choosing the ideas on which to move forward? Locally, the stories, ideas, and photos collected at DareToImagine will be incorporated into ongoing projects. For example, the story booth at #DareToImagine represents the launch of an ongoing oral history effort called the West Side Storytelling project, run through the Sorenson Unity Center. Claim It! is an ongoing photographic arts project, and the photos taken at the event will become part of that project, which in turn will inform the construction of four art projects in locations around the city. In general, these efforts are not so much about choosing a few ideas and developing campaigns around them. Rather, they’re about collecting and sharing many ideas and diverse voices, in ways that can inspire action and change across the city. At the national level, the USDAC will be going through all the stories, hopes, dreams, and ideas from across the country, and pulling out some recurring themes. These themes will be selected based whether they have broad relevance across communities. They will inform a national policy platform focused on arts and cultural policy, to be pushed forward by the USDAC.

How will the projects be funded? Locally, the groups already have funding. The Civic Arts Studio, for example, is working on cultural development on the West Side, and is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Nationally, the USDAC is already developing proposals for how cultural policy can be funded through alternative forms of investment.

Is this an ongoing process or a one time gig? This is a one time project, but by partnering with local groups and integrating their ongoing work into the #DareToImagine, the products created here will continue to have a life locally and nationally.

Is there an example of something like #daretoimagine working in the past? Where has this been successful? The USDAC has been doing similar actions for two years around the country.

Any ideas in particular that you’re anticipating? We will be asking the same questions in different ways through each project, and expect a wide diversity of ideas, concerns, hopes, etc. We expect to be surprised!