- Colette A. Finney
Despite the cautious overtones of her current exhibit at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), Megan Hallett is anything but shy and retiring, with a hand in many local projects bringing strangers, artists and bikers together. With a simple manifesto of "Ride with Us," Hallett sought out riders willing to "sing the love of two wheels over four," but not going anywhere was fine also, hence the title League of Reluctant Bicyclists.
The collaborative approach exemplifies Hallett's artistic philosophy. "I created the League of Reluctant Bicyclists because I was struck constantly by my own desire to ride my bike more, as a way of building a better community and living a better life, and then still not riding," Hallett says. "I think of art first and foremost as a place to figure out how to live. For eight weeks, we combined aspects of performance, theater, installation, writing, filmmaking and visual art to try to figure out what it means to get on, or not get on, our bikes as a way of navigating our daily lives."
This latest example is just one of her many "social art-making" projects, and Hallett is hooked. With this simple notion—ride or don't ride—she managed to enlist 60 riders to join in on her latest art project.
Yet Hallett still manages to teach art to elementary students and run her art nonprofit, Framework Arts, while still allowing a little time to paint. Despite driving a forklift and using a "badass" chainsaw on previous jobs, there seemed to be something steering her toward creative ground rather than cutting Christmas trees. After earning degrees in fine arts and education, she eventually took a position as a visual art instructor, and her involvement in community art grew from there.
"Years ago, I was working with a wonderful art teacher, and I was still struggling with internal boundaries of 'art teacher' vs. 'artist.' Together we figured out how to be both," Hallett says. "It was then that I saw my role as an artist working alongside these other young artists, bringing to the project different skills or abilities than what they had, and making it together."
Hallett is well respected in Salt Lake City for gathering people to create public art projects like the League of Reluctant Bicyclists. But the breadth of her energy does not stop there. Framework Arts served more than 500 participants the past year with family art studio classes, art projects, a speaker series and even gallery space.
Embracing a group mindset in creating art, Hallett envisions projects and seeks out opportunities for anyone willing to try. "I do what I do because I love working with people and inviting them to make meaning with art materials," Hallett says. "I believe that too many people's stories are not being told with accuracy and compassion, or are not being told by the people who are living them."
While finding themes tied to issues playing out among her students and in the world, curiosity is a driving force in propelling Hallet's ideas, along with support from others such as the Salt Lake City Public Library, Saltgrass Printmakers and KRCL 90.9 FM. With a strong desire to persist in creating something even when it feels impossible, while finding "comfort in discomfort," Hallett uses her education background to guide others in the art-making process.
"The word that I fall back on for comfort in this process is 'emergent,'" Hallett says. "My work emerges over time, with other people contributing their stories within the structure or parameters that I provide."
Working with Hallett for more than 16 years, Utah Museum of Fine Arts curator of education Virginia Catherall has seen Hallett's ideas grow from a single-minded focus, and evolve into having a broad sense of devotion for the marginalized and underserved populations. "Her art projects allow the community to voice their own ideas, challenges and perspectives through different mediums, really showing how art can enhance and reflect people's lives," Catherall says. "Through Megan's unique perspective and her experiences teaching in the schools and the community, our city and state has become more vibrant and enriched."
Hoping to keep the wheels moving forward for a long time, Hallett believes there are many paths and places available in the pursuit of art, not just the artist alone at the easel. Whatever artistic avenue is being sought—whether a studio artist, musician or art instructor—seek out people who will stretch individual ideas about what is possible to fortify an artist's ability to persist.
"To show us things in new emotionally striking ways; and expose us to stories that are buried or unfamiliar about ourselves and others so that we may love and live better, together," Hallett adds. "The vitality of our communities depends on it."
Even though she is most proud of the work with her young students, the League of Reluctant Bicyclists and other previous art-making ventures, including Work and Wisdom of the Water Closet, have brought Hallett praise for her tireless energy encouraging the voices of the public to blossom. "To see a work by Megan and her community is to come away a more fulfilled and learned person," Catherall concludes.