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SALT LAKE CITY — As Jimmi Toro applied a coat of rich blue paint to the back wall of a building in Salt Lake City's industrial center, a sparrow landed on and pranced around on a wire crossing through the mural the Utah artist was piecing together.
Moments later, a freight train thundered on by about 100 feet behind Toro.
In many ways, the scene was emblematic of how Salt Lake County's tourism sector is trying to brand the region. They view it as a connection between urban life and nature. It's why Visit Salt Lake — the private, nonprofit organization that promotes Salt Lake County tourism — enlisted the help of artists like Toro to paint murals all around the county that tell the reality of Salt Lake County.
Toro's mural, once complete, will be one of 10 large paintings scattered around the region with a similar theme and palette. The project is the latest phase of promotion since Visit Salt Lake unveiled its "West of Conventional" rebrand in June, said Kaitlin Eskelson, the president and CEO of the nonprofit.
The West of Conventional Mural Tour, launched Monday, will feature 10 different local artists with murals placed around six cities in the county and four Salt Lake City neighborhoods once it is complete. All 10 will merge Visit Salt Lake's salt crystal logo in some form or fashion, which is meant to symbolize the "many facets" of Salt Lake County residents.
"This is the largest county-wide mural initiative ever," said Derek Dyer, the executive director of Utah Arts Alliance. "We have murals from Brighton to Magna and everywhere in between."
Eskelson explained the idea was inspired by surveys conducted during the nonprofit's rebranding research phase. A company they contracted found there was a disconnect between people's perceptions of Salt Lake County and "the reality."
In essence, people didn't view Salt Lake County as very inventive or inspired as compared to other U.S. communities.
"We are creative, we are inventive," she said of the county. "There's a lot of vibrancy going on here in our communities. This is just one way to activate that — kind of to start telling the cultural asset story."
That's why the organization enlisted the Utah Arts Alliance's help. Dyer was immediately on board with the idea, and the Utah Arts Alliance reached out to a diverse range of local artists for murals that express the county's story.
He's thrilled with how the project has come along.
"We're not trying to pretend we're not something we are; we're trying to show who we are," he said. "The local artists are like the heart and soul of our community, I really believe. And so it's very important if we're going to show people who we are ... we want our artists to be at the forefront of that."
Locations of the West of Conventional Mural Tour:
- Brighton Resort: 8302 S. Brighton Loop Road in Brighton (Artist: Matt Monsoon)
- **Caputo's Market & Deli:*** 1516 S. 1500 East in Salt Lake City (Artist: Gerry Swanson)
- Copper Mine Saloon: 9071 W. Main Street in Magna (Artist: Miriam Gutierrez)
- Hip & Humble: 1043 E. 900 South in Salt Lake City (Artist: Chris Peterson)
- INDUSTRY: 653 S. 600 West in Salt Lake City (Artist: Jimmi Toro)
- Mountain America Expo Center: 9575 S. State in Sandy (Artist: Traci O'very Covey)
- **Murray Theater:*** 4961 S. State in Murray (Artist: Josh Scheuerman)
- **Salt Palace Convention Center:*** 100 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City (Artist: Shae Peterson)
- SLC Center for Science Education: 1350 Goodwin Ave. in Salt Lake City (Artist: Jorge Arellano)
- Valley Fair Mall: 3601 S. 2700 West in West Valley City (Artist: Bill Louis)
*Mural expected in near future
While every mural differs in some sort of way, they all share the same message.
"The thing that I love is that it really kind of speaks to the fact that we are all Salt Lake," Dyer added. "We may have different towns and cities and municipalities around the valley, but we're all Salt Lake. This project really helps amplify that message. ... We're diverse and we have a lot of different ideas, but we're all kind of connected."
Many embody that nature and human connection that exists within the county. Jorge Arellano's mural, located in Salt Lake City's Rose Park neighborhood, celebrates Polynesian and Latino cultures and traditions through the colors and patterns chosen by local students. It features a woman holding a butterfly in each of her outstretched hands.
Miriam Gutierrez's design in Magna features Salt Lake City's man-made building and natural mountain skylines, along with a cutthroat trout and a bison.
"My creative approach for this mural is deeply inspired by the nature that surrounds us and from simply taking the time to explore the area and understand why we call this place home," she explained in a statement.
Matt Monsoon's "Raven Steals the Sun," located at Brighton Resort, was crafted out of a specific scene that played out in the mountains within Salt Lake County. He explained that the mural was inspired by ravens that hover over Mount Millicent at twilight.
Toro's will be the seventh mural completed when he's done. He's hopeful that will happen this week, weather permitting. As he prepared to continue his work, he said he was "honored" when he was approached by the Utah Arts Alliance about the project. While he doesn't do many murals, he said this project was an "easy yes" for him because he knew it would go toward representing where he lives and works.
His concept will feature an abstract floral design to represent both the county's urban-nature connection and "traditional outlooks mingle with progressive ideals" themes. It's a design that came to him quickly
"From an artistic standpoint, Utah is going more progressive with art. (Dyer) and Visit Salt Lake are also moving in that direction, and my style is more in that direction already," he said, noting his design is inspired by nature but won't have the traditional trees or animals people might expect from nature artwork.
The mural tour comes as travel to Salt Lake County is slowly coming back after Utah's tourism industry was slammed hard by COVID-19. Utah's most-populated county accounts for nearly half of the state's tourism industry revenue.
Eskelson said tourism in Salt Lake County is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019 but is inching closer to those revenue levels with conventions returning this year. She explained the county is still relying on leisure travelers because business travel is still well below 2019 rates.
Meanwhile, the mural tour plays into those traveling to Salt Lake County for fun. Visitors and residents alike can activate an account on the Visit Salt Lake website and then digitally check in to the different murals for free. Once they've proven they've been to at least six, they qualify for a Salt Lake County tourism-branded T-shirt they can pick up from the Visit Salt Lake office inside the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Said Eskelson, "It's just a nice way to reformalize yourself with Salt Lake County."