Salt Lake City's cultural community itches to come of age

And Utah's capital knows just what it wants to be when it grows up: Denver.

That was the teaser headline recently in a Tribune article lamenting the fact that because Salt Lake doesn't have an appropriately-sized theater, some of the bigger "broadway on tour" shows won't be stopping in Utah.

Recently, the Soccer Fuster-Cluck had, as an appendage, the construction/renewal/revitalization of a massive downtown arts district in exchange for a Sandy soccer stadium complex that dwarfs HRH Larry Miller's Jordan Commons.

Since that whole thing has been shown to be what it REALLY is - the pipe dream of a silver-spooned and equally silver-toungued Dave Checketts, there hasn't really been much talk of developing a large Arts District like the one Denver has right now. Want to go see Miss Saigon - the original touring production? You'll have to go to Denver to do it. Same with The Color Purple, and several other top-drawer Broadway shows.

Why is that, really? Is it because we don't have a venue that will attract the green-visor-wearing bean counters for these tours, or is it because Salt Lake Valley residents simply won't support something like this? Is it a case of "build it and they will come"?

I doubt it. And here's why. Well, two reasons, anyway.

First, Denver's culture is different from here. There, the median income is higher, the median education level is higher. The higher up you go on these two scales, the more support for arts there is. How do I put this delicately? There aren't enough "cultured" people here whose time isn't tied up with weeknight church activities. By the same token, there are A LOT here who think the motocross event at Rice-Eccles is THE event of the year. You topless-bronco-drivin', beer-from-a-can drinkin, shotgun ownin', overall wearin', no lawnmower ownin', front tooth missin', neighbor's dog shootin' rednecks, you.

Second, a great preponderance of people here in Utah, regardless of income or education, think that high culture is a stake production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, staged in the gym of a local church building, starring the neighbor kids. Seriously.

Here is a description of the Denver Cultural District, showing another symptom of Salt Lake's shortcomings:

The Boettcher Concert Hall hums like a nightclub. Crowds line the lobby, sipping cocktails. Inside the Colorado Symphony's home, audience members tap their feet or wave their hands like a conductor to what is described as hot dogs with salsa - classical music meshed with Mexican mariachi.
Steps away, in the Broadway theater, Jean Valjean mesmerizes the well-heeled masses as he tries to escape Inspector Javert in what is touted as the last national tour of "Les Miserables." When the curtain falls, the fur-clad crowd files past a cabaret, where the college set mulls over a Second City political sendup.
Can you spot it?

It's alcohol. They're called "cocktail" parties for a reason, and the reason isn't some sick reference to the Navy's "Tailhook" scandal of several years ago. It's alcohol because when people put on the good clothes in most other cities, they do so in conjunction with sharing some adult beverages with good friends. We're not talking about a MGD 3-kegger up the road at a place on Frat Row, where you can end up at home without your pants, or any knowledge of where they might be. We're talking about nice drinks in martini glasses, or a Manhattan Dewars, three cherries, rocks (my personal favorite).

In general in this country, when people go out for the arts, they go out for drinks, before or after. That's just the way it is. But in Salt Lake, it is so hard to buy a drink, and further, it's so hard to get alcohol licensing for public venues, that most don't offer it.

Most suits in this valley are threadbare from wear on church pews.

Would "The Color Purple" sell out here? Probably. Would Miss Saigon? Certainly. But what about the OTHER 40 weeks of the year? Is there enough money or time in Salt Lake among those who would patronize these shows, to allow them to patronize other things held there? And what would those "other" things be?

Hmmm. Good questions.

1 comment:

for what it's worth said...

I am impressed with our own Winspear Centre. Now not only do we have one world class venue, but we have 2...the new Jubilee and the Winspear.
Interestingly, we have used the Winspear for our own functions with choir. Various non-profit or charitable organizations use it for their fundraisers. So to answer your question about would it have any use between major functions....if it was opened up to community organizations, it would be a sell out every night.
And those wonderful church productions ( please note the dripping sarcasm), could quite practically use a proper venue.
As for the issue with the alcohol, having a cocktail during intermission is not going to ruin society. People who attend Arts functions are not typically, as we call them, pisswillies. They are people from diverse cultures, religion, and income brackets, all out enjoying an evening of entertainment and perhaps even an evening of enlightenment. If you don't want to imbibe, then don't! But don't impose your teetotalling on others. Diversity.....check it out!