Tonight's Gallery Stroll is probably going to be the last one of the year that won't require a heavy coat and an hourly weather check before going out, making it the last great chance to wander around on foot to see new art. But every month is also an opportunity for a new spot to open up, which is exactly the case for Downtown Artist Collective. A brand new gallery and artistic hub located along 100 South in the heart of downtown, the space
is currently being run by a mix of SLC talent looking to create a valuable co-op and learning center for the community. Today we chat with one of the co-founders and artists, our old friend Desarae Lee, to chat about the collective and their mission, all with photos I recently took of the place featuring the works of Sarah May.
Gavin: Hey Desarae! First off, how have things been going since we last chatted?
Why hello there, Gavin. Things have been going great! I’ve had a few exciting projects going on. I’ve been working on illustrating some books, I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to put together a print studio, and I’ve been working with a few amazing individuals to create an artists’ co-op here in Salt Lake City. I’ve also been working really hard to expand my artistic vision, trying to create deeper pieces that are more layered with texture and meaning.
What new artwork have you been creating lately?
I’ve been playing a lot with my new etching press, creating drypoint prints and working with a printmaking technique called Chine Collé. I’m looking forward to this winter when I’ll have more time to spend in the studio working with the press. Of course, I’m still drawing and loving the feel of pen on paper. With my drawings, I’m working on developing more complexity and depth.
Getting right to it, how did the concept for the Downtown Artist Collective come about?
I’ve been ridiculously lucky with my involvement in the DAC. I was shopping at a pop-up shop belonging to my good friend Amy Leininger, and we started talking about this space she has. She had been thinking for a long time about how she wanted to make it into a space for local artists, but she was just too busy to take on the project on her own. It turns out that at that time I was looking for a new studio space to house all of my printmaking equipment, and I’d also been hoping to find an artists’ community in which to participate. From there, things just continued to fortuitously come together, including our bumping into people like Sarah May and Jamie Kyle, who joined in the project and eventually became the rest of our board.
What was the process like in finding like-minded artists and getting everyone involved?
The process of getting everyone involved was kind of magical. I feel like the four of us on the board came together very naturally, and we all just happened to compliment each other very well as far as our strengths and weaknesses are concerned. I’ve noticed in my life that sometimes things just want to happen; like the world is just waiting for you to recognize that something needs to be done and once you step up to do it and put in the work for it, things just fall into place. Getting our artists involved was as simple as putting an application out there. We got a lot of applications from a lot of talented individuals. I think we are filling a niche in the community, and a lot of people want to be part of it.
You're using a space on 100 South that, for a time, you used as a studio. How did you originally come across the place?
My first real interaction with the space
was visiting Amy’s events before we even conceived of the DAC. She owns Q Clothing—a local boutique—and was already using the space for Q and to host local pop-up events with local artists like Desert Rose Jewelry and Innerspacism.
What was it like cleaning it up and turning it into a gallery and studio for your original needs?
My studio space downstairs was originally just a storage basement, so there was a process of moving things out and cleaning, a large part of which was done by Amy, who owns the building with her husband, Rheda
. Then it’s just a matter of moving in equipment, furniture and of course all of the art I’ve collected from some of my favorites to use as inspiration. The gallery space upstairs is already so picturesque, it didn’t take much work to get it ready for the first show I had there. There was a fair amount of cleaning involved in the preparation, but luckily my mom was around to help. There was a point, I remember, where my mom got mad at me because I was “mopping too slow” and she insisted on taking over while I tried to help her without getting in her way.
What made you decide to use it as the central hub for the collective?
Amy had already been using the space to feature local artist and artisans with a vision to expand upon that theme, so it was a fairly natural step to use the space for the collective. In fact, you might even say that the idea for the collective grew out of that space.
What kind of work went into converting the space into a co-op hub?
Since my first show there, we’ve redone the floors, halved a wall to put in a counter, and done lots of little things to make the space more amenable as a gallery and learning space. Before our grand opening event, we plan to add modular walls so that the space
can be constantly reinvented to fit the needs of each individual showing artist.
What were some of the first events like at the place when you first started?
We’ve only had a few events here thus far. There was my Kickstarter show in the spring, and our board member Sarah May recently showed a collection of her photography. We’ve also held a few workshops in the space already. This building is perfect for displaying and learning art
and a great space for comfortably holding a fair amount of people.
How have the artists reacted to using it? And what feedback have you gotten from other artists who are not directly involved?
All of our DAC members seem to love our space. They’re all brimming with the ideas and possibilities of displaying and teaching here. I keep hearing requests and stories about our artists wanting to try this type of workshop or can we use some space for this or that. I’m really loving what a little bit of space can do for an artist in terms of possibility. From the few people I and other board members have talked to that are not directly related to our project, there’s definitely a feeling of excitement at the possibility of what could happen here.
What events do you have lined up for the next few months?
Our next event is the DAC Grand Opening on Oct. 21, which will be our first official gallery show as a collective. All of our artists are working hard to create fresh and interesting art with which to introduce themselves to the community. We will be holding two gift and holiday-related shows in November and December, with an entire holiday event surrounding the December show. After our opening event, we plan to have regular workshops for the community and for artists. You can check out the calendar on our website to find out more.
For those who would like to get involved or hold events here, what do they need to do?
Co-founders (L-R) Jamie Kyle, Sarah May, Desarae Lee & Amy Leininger
We encourage everyone that is part of our community to get involved! You don’t have to be a member to take part in activities at the DAC. We have a variety of workshops lined up for artists and non-artists alike. We have plenty of volunteer opportunities within our organization, and we hope to partner with various non-profits in the community to create even more volunteer opportunities. We also realize that with such a beautiful space covered in art, people will want to hold receptions, parties, and other events here. Either way, members of the community are encouraged to get in touch via our website or email address or by just coming into the space
and speaking with one of us directly.
Where do you hope to take the space down the road and what impact do you want to make?
As a board, all of us are very passionate about having a positive effect on our community. We hope not only to have our space become a gathering place for the local arts community and to get a name for excellent art and innovative artists, we also hope to give back to the community through art-related activities and charitable events.
What can we expect from you and the Collective over the rest of the year and going into next?
From both the collective and me, you can expect to see new and interesting art. Personally, I am looking to expand the depth and technique of my work. As a collective, our members are looking to critique and collaborate to develop their own work. Together, we hope to have a profound impact upon the way our community interacts with art and artists. As a collective, we will also plan to be involved in the local community. We have a couple artists who are passionate about collaborating with specific groups to tell various stories through art.