Visual Art | Mixed Use: Mestizo Coffeehouse re-opens with a vision for an artistically vibrant west side | Visual Art | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Visual Art

Visual Art | Mixed Use: Mestizo Coffeehouse re-opens with a vision for an artistically vibrant west side


Artist and activist Ruby Chacon just lost a day. Driving back from her son Orion’s band concert in California on Tuesday, June 15, their car overturned on the freeway. It would take more than the few bruises she sustained in the crash to deter her from her dream, however.

There were a few detours along the way. Mestizo Coffeehouse was only open for a few months in 2002, a footnote to that year’s “Cultural Olympics” but lacking the impact Chacon had intended. Its name is from the Spanish word for “mixed race”; Mestizo as “mixture” describes everything about the new location. It combines a coffee business with a nonprofit art gallery, nestled in a stylish new building housing mixed-income apartments and small businesses. But perhaps most importantly, Mestizo is meant to be a gathering place for the west-side community.

The first attempt was an inviting venue for Hispanic artists but didn‘t carry over to the rest of the local community. “We had a passion but no business plan,” Chacon explains. This edition seems more set to succeed, with mentors in the community helping draft a business plan and silent investors adding their support along with co-owner (and Chacon’s husband) Terry Hurst.

After closing the doors in 2002, the pair almost immediately founded the nonprofit Mestizo Institute for Culture and Arts, established to foster culture and the arts in the local Hispanic community. They had learned some important lessons the first time around. “The first Mestizo taught us it’s better to dialogue with a community than talk about a community,” Hurst says.

Chacon had reservations about the west side, but the new location became a blessing in disguise. “I never felt a sense of community till we moved here,” she says.

Perhaps it’s that greater sense of community that enabled the two to create a new Mestizo that more fully lives up to the promise of the original. But it also helped get the new site off the ground. Area residents with fond memories of the old location as well as nonprofits such as Neighborhood Works donated even physical labor to the project.

Mestizo is a key element in the revitalization of the west side, Chacon and Hurst believe. “There is a direct correlation between the amount of government investment in a neighborhood and the eradication of poverty,” says Hurst. For decades, the city had passed on supporting developments in the area, and a large part of the impulse for Mestizo was, in Chacon and Hurst’s words, “If no one else will do it, we’ll do it ourselves.”

Mestizo opened on June 20 to a reception teeming with people. Even the physical layout is innovative, designed to adapt to the uses of the people in it. Partitions of the walls between the coffee shop, gallery and office areas revolve to open or close off space and noise.

This month’s gallery stroll show stakes out even more significant ground, partnering with the University of Utah’s MALCS (Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, or Women Active in Letters and Social Change) conference, featuring works by and about members of the group. The nonprofit association works toward the support, education and dissemination of Chicana/Latina/Native American women’s issues.

Chacon has been mentoring artists from local high schools to teach them how to create a work from start to finish. “Projects always end, but I want to give them something to take with them,” she says. Her own artwork has gained international notice, both for her colorful oil portraits and for her public-art mosaics.

The gallery is also hosting weekly poetry slams and a “Saturday morning with the mayor” get-together. The energy of the community is behind Mestizo, but as Hurst says, it wouldn‘t be what it is without the tireless energy of Chacon. “It’s easy to support her,” Hurst explains. “She’s her own public art program.”

MALCS ART EXHIBIT Mestizo Gallery, 631 W. North Temple. Through Aug. 15. 596-0500,