A new space for queer art from the minds of University of Utah alumni

May 23 2019

Salt Lake is about to embark on a new festival experience, one that is very much needed and dually important. Queer Spectra Arts Festival, in its first year, is dedicated to showcasing arts from multiple LGBTQIA+ perspectives. The festival began as the 2-year brain child of Dat Nguyen, an alum of the College of Fine Arts School of Dance. Nguyen had been involved in numerous underground art scenes in Salt Lake City that featured some queer-focused art but he felt there could be another venue to showcase queer art.

He saw the need for a space and he began to dream. 

The festival became a reality with the help and passion of U alumni Emma Sargent (BFA in Modern Dance and a BA in Gender Studies), Aileen Norris (Honors BFA in Modern Dance and BA in English) and Molly Barnewitz (MA in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies), who joined Nguyen in creating what is now called “Queer Spectra Arts Festival”.

As curators, they aim to present a diverse array of voices, backgrounds, experiences, cultures, mediums, and artistic disciplines in order to celebrate queer artistic expressions. Their hopes are to challenge and contribute to contemporary understanding of queer discourse while promoting a nuanced conversation between artists and audiences about queer identity and art. 

“In the dance world there is a lot of queer dance performance going on but it seems to be heteronormative, and queer performance art is treated as niche — an underground thing,” Sargent said. “There’s art makin going on but not a lot of discourse. Art pieces I have been a part of have been insularly produced, everyone involved in the process will be queer and cathartic but there isn’t a platform for queer dance to be seen as other types art. Salt Lake City is also a great place for modern dance and ballet, but a lot of the dance that is funded is perhaps more traditional or classical. Issues of art projects that get funding are sort of apolitical, easier to get it funded. Queer art is often being perceived as being political. It hasn’t reached a cultural moment of being depolitized.”

Emma Sargent speaks about one of the festival’s goals being “to increase opportunities for queer folks. We are creating another artist space that includes artists in many different points in their careers, not just highlighting established artists, name recognition and experience. It’s a good mix of people who are still in school and recently graduated”

It’s clear these four are not just creating a physical space for queer artists to show their work and be represented, but to also engage in a dialogue around the journey of being a queer artist and the works that can come from those lived experiences.

“A journey as a queer person and a journey as an artist is really hard,” Nguyen said as advice to current students. “Learn to love yourself and learn to be in touch with yourself and your art. Don’t just let your identify inform your art, be open minded, let your art inform your identify. Let the art create the artist. Come in and create chaos, let the chaos inform you”.

With 29 artists participating in the festival, it’s clearly more than an art event but an important conversation catalyst for queer artists in Salt Lake City.

For more information on these artists, please visit the Queer Spectra website

5/25 from 1P -10P at the Commonwealth Studios (150 W. Commonwealth Ave)

1P Welcome & Opening Remarks - 2D and 3D Gallery Opens
1P - 1:30P Keynote: Well, Is It? Questioning What Makes Art Queer
2P - 3P Workshop I: Details TBD
30 Time-based arts Presentation I, followed by Q&A
5:30-6:45P Workshop II: Embodied Imaginations
7:30P Time-based arts Presentation II, followed by Q&A

Learn more about the 2019 Queer Spectra artists here.