Artist exposed: What does it take to make it in Utah?

Story and photo by PEYTON M. DALLEY

While blue skies and daunting summers may claim Utah’s geography, the passion driven from local artists shines brighter than any summer day could.

From public art outside to Saturday morning farmers markets, local artists can be seen from every part of the state, enlightening audiences from Saint George to Logan.

What exactly does it take to be a successful artist in this state? Utah has world-renowned programs at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University that focus on art-related programs, and platforms like the Utah Cultural Alliance that allow local artists to be showcased.

However, does education play a role in the success of the artists that Utah is producing? Or is it the connections made by individuals that create their success?


Crystal Young-Otterstrom

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of the Utah Cultural Alliance and a noted opera singer, is one example of Utah success. She has been named one of Utah Business Magazine’s “40 under 40″ and boasts an impressive resume that includes performances in Vivace, an opera group based in the Utah area, helping to start the Utah Symphony and founding her own company, Foursight Partners. Young-Otterstrom is an artist who has shown success in the Utah community.

Young-Otterstrom earned a music theory degree from BYU, and completed her master’s degree at Queens College in New York. She credits her success to her knowledge of the field and the skill sets she learned in college. But, she added, “You [also] learn along the way.” Young-Otterstrom currently promotes her own company while serving on the board of several art organizations, including LDS Composers Network.

Young-Otterstrom said connections can help people get from one step to the next. She said she has gained valuable contacts through the wide variety of work she has done with local organizations.

Another success story in the Utah community is Pat Bagley, the editorial cartoonist for the Salt Lake Tribune. He said in a phone interview that he “immersed” himself in the arts community and took history and political science classes. Bagley said “it helps to be exposed to what you want to do.”

Bagley’s work has been featured in Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Bagley, also a  graduate of BYU, has been putting pen to paper at the Tribune since 1979. He said connections are helpful, but skill set is more valuable. He obtained his job at the newspaper based on his portfolio.

While success can be found in the Utah market, what are the necessary steps to get there?

Tanner Forbes aspires to one day make Broadway headlines. Photo courtesy of Tanner Forbes.

Tanner Forbes aspires to one day make Broadway headlines. Photo by Wendy Clymore.

Tanner Forbes, a student at BYU who is triple majoring in the Music Dance Theater Program, is hoping to one day break into the arts field, locally as well as nationally.

“I think there needs to be a balance of talent and connectivity,” Forbes said in an email. “I strongly believe that all talent will eventually make its way to the top, but there’s communities of artists everywhere and you have to immerse yourself in that world in order to expand your success as an artist. But always be trained! Always be trained before you jump into communities of artists. Education works wonders with that.”

Forbes is currently a BYU Young Ambassador. He credits his ambitions to the skill set he has developed in his courses and  through outside training. He also studies the work of individuals such as the late actor Heath Ledger, who died in 2008, for  inspiration.

Forbes is focused on his future and is passionate about his career choice. He hopes to land an audition on Broadway after his training at BYU, and hopes to play a role such as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” in New York City.

“I’ve found that Utah is extremely diverse,” Forbes said. “Sure, it’s no New York or [Los Angeles,]  but we have so many different types of people pursuing so many different types of paths, especially in the Salt Lake area. There’s really opportunities for everyone here.”



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