Arts education empowers Salt Lake City


Salt Lake City is home to a growing art scene. Whether it be intricate murals that color the sides of buildings or exhibitions and galleries, there is something for all art lovers. 

Many of the artists on the west side of Salt Lake City use their art as activism, teaching people about their culture through their work and educational experiences. Activists and artists find their path in several different ways, but increasingly on the west side, education seems to direct them.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a program dedicated to bringing greater civic engagement to the west side, has seen the impact of art education. Working with organizations like the Mestizo Institute of Culture & Arts (MICA), Mayer-Glenn said, “Art is a way to connect with the community.”

One example of such impact is featured in the 2020 issue of “Community Voices,” the UNP magazine. A group of 10 youth artists participated in an art residency where they collaborated on the creative process. The result is a mural located at Sugar Space Arts Warehouse that explores the theme of cultural identity. One of the lead artists on the project, Ruby Chacón, holds an art legacy here in Utah — and she has experience with using her artistic voice for activism. 

Art as Activism

Chacón graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in fine arts. She credits her education as a catalyst to create art. “The experience of growing up in Utah as a person of color was kind of what informed my work,” Chacón said in a phone interview.

Yet she never imagined she’d become a teacher. After a negative experience with a guidance counselor in high school, who repeatedly told Chacón she would never graduate, the last thing on the artist’s mind was to become an educator.

Ruby Chacón posing next to one of her murals. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

It wasn’t until Chacón had her own son and had to think about what kind of educational experience she wanted for him that she understood she was in a position of great power. “I realized I need[ed] to go back and change from the ground up what needs to be changed in schools,” Chacón said. “I wanted to be the teacher that some kids might not have.” 

More than that, she wanted to execute in her teaching and art what she didn’t receive as a child: representation and a listening ear. “My whole experience of living in Utah and going through the school system and not seeing myself in books we read, images we saw — they did not represent me,” Chacón said. “For the longest time, I thought we were immigrants because that’s what everyone told us.”

Chacón wants to take control of her cultural narrative and show young kids they are allowed to dream and create art. When the dominant narrative is one that doesn’t include someone who looks like you, it has a lasting impact. Paying it forward is the next step to addressing this issue. 

Chacón’s TRAX Mural. Located at the Jackson\Euclid TRAX station, 850 W. North Temple. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

“It’s really important that they can see themselves reflected in a positive, dignified way to counter those narratives that are very poisoning to their identities,” Chacón said. She now teaches middle and high school art in a different state. As the co-founder of MICA, she still speaks fondly of the mission and organization: “It brings an insider’s perspective to share their voice through their art. It purposefully resides on the west side.” 

Education Empowers Artists 

Miguel Galaz, another west-side artist, didn’t realize he could pursue art as a career until he reached higher education and took an oil painting class at Salt Lake Community College. Eventually, he discovered the power of art and activism during a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America, which helped his art career take off. 

“I was exposed to a lot of different cultures that were just fascinating,” Galaz said in a phone interview. “We went to a lot of Mayan ruins, we were just drenched with different colors, textures, food and music throughout the whole trip.”

This cultural deep dive is what led Galaz to understand what he wanted to present with his art. “I was born in Mexico, but raised over here (Utah). I sort of felt like an identity struggle of not belonging. So going on this trip made me feel connected with my identity and the richness of my culture,” he said.

In 2015, when a friend asked him to do a piece for a restaurant located in West Jordan, Utah, he wasn’t expecting controversy to occur. The experience shook Galaz to the core, but it was another pivotal moment.

Miguel Galaz’s mural in West Jordan. Photo courtesy of Miguel Galaz.

“It made me realize the power of art,” Galaz said. “How applying paint to a wall in a certain way to really impact people can move them.” This idea led to the creation of Roots Art Kollective. “We wanted to do something for our communities,” he said. “To inspire people to want to learn more.” 

Chacón and Galaz are just two of many examples of artists who believe in the power of  art education for students. On the west side, this education can lead to community, creation and connectivity. As Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners put it, “Art is a way to express repression and oppression.” 


University Neighborhood Partners aims to widen access to education for west side residents

University Neighborhood Partners, located on the west side of Salt Lake City, partners with 25 organizations across the Salt Lake Valley to provide access to education and services for residents of that community.

Story and photo by LAURA SCHMITZ

When Sarah Munro began her dissertation at the University of Michigan, she saw a need to bring access to education to minority communities.

After conducting research in Italy and receiving her Ph.D. in anthropology in 2002, she now works as the associate director of University Neighborhood Partners to make that need a reality.

As part of the president’s office at the University of Utah, UNP is “a bridge between the U and nonprofits on the west side,” Munro said.

UNP was launched in 2002 and acts as that bridge by creating partnerships under three main “umbrellas” — youth and education, community leadership and capacity building.

Serving two ZIP codes and seven neighborhoods on the west side of Salt Lake City, UNP currently boasts about 34 partnerships with 25 organizations. Munro admitted that monitoring the success of UNP is difficult, given that much of its work is seen only by the success of its partners.

“We’re always the convener,” Munro said. “We don’t actually do the work — we bring in community organizers to do the work.”

Munro collaborates with UNP staff in choosing organizations with which to partner. She said she and the seven to 10 staff members then maintain partnerships through ample communication and a positive attitude.

“We’re in constant communication,” Munro said of UNP and its partners. “We sit in both worlds and anticipate needs and goals.”

UNP works by building relationships with organizations that work with underrepresented populations, including refugees and undocumented immigrants. Munro said language, transportation and childcare are major hurdles west-side residents face in accessing basic freedoms, including education and healthcare.

“Our policy is we help anyone who comes to the table,” Munro said. “We don’t choose who we help, the organizations do. We simply create the table.”

According to 2010 census data, about 13 percent of Salt Lake City residents are Hispanic — a 78 percent increase from 2000 census data. As demographics continue to change in the United States, Utah and the Salt Lake Valley, Munro said institutions of higher education must adapt to prepare future students for college by widening access.

“A long-term goal is to move students from the west side to succeed, completing high school and coming to the U,” Munro said. “In 20 years, if the U can’t be more effective at this, it will no longer be the flagship university in the state.”

Rosemarie Hunter, director of UNP, was inspired to join hands with UNP after her time as a social worker. She was involved in the U’s College of Social Work for 16 years.

Hunter said education allows individuals to make choices and decisions from a place of knowledge.

“Education is a shared value across all communities and families,” she said. “Education really is power — anytime you can get access to education, you can take better care of yourself and your family.”

Hunter said UNP’s goal is not to try to jump in and “fix” everything, but to create a “mutual shared space” of learning between members of the west-side community and the U, allowing the U to change to support a more diverse population.

“What we look to do is go into existing places to (allow west-side residents) to interface with university life while going about their daily life,” Hunter said. “The U is learning a lot from residents and their cultural backgrounds and life experiences.”

Another UNP staff member, Brizia Ceja, began working for the organization as a freshman at the U as a student intern.

Originally from Mexico, Ceja moved to the U.S. at 13. She then grew up on the west side and still has family living there. She said she is therefore able to relate to that community on a personal level.

“I’m able to identify with most families I work with,” Ceja said. “I come from an immigrant family. I am the first person in my family to go to college.”

Ceja now works as an academic consultant for UNP to facilitate partnerships with middle and high schools. She said schools on the west side are often crowded with one academic adviser serving many.

“We want to start working with them young to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks,” Ceja said. “We want to make sure students have a safe place with (academic) mentors.”

Ceja said she wants children on the west side to view college as not only a possibility, but a natural progression after high school.

“I want them to know (college) is an option,” Ceja said. “Just like high school follows middle school, college follows high school.”

UNP has established partnerships with two elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools on the west side of Salt Lake City. The organization continues to foster relationships with these students to help prepare hundreds for a collegiate experience.

Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective offers Community Bike Shop programs to west-side youth

Story and photo by CECELIA FENNELL

The University of Utah Community Bike Shop has a bike on the roof.

The Community Bike shop, located at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, offers tools and know-how for people to fix their bikes. In addition to providing basic bike repairs, The Community Bike Shop offers youth programs.

Middle-school aged students residing on the west side of Salt Lake City volunteer at this community bike shop and teach other children from that community how to fix and repair bikes. Students learn how to teach the children by taking classes taught by bicycle instructors from the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective, a nonprofit organization located at 2312 S. West Temple.

Thanks to University Neighborhood Partners of the University of Utah, the Community Bike Shop and the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective — two organizations with similar missions — were able to partner.

“Through this partnership, volunteer instructors from the collective teach student volunteers how to fix bikes,” said Sarah Munro, associate director of UNP.

According to its website, UNP’s mission  is to “redress historical inequity by understanding systematic barriers that have prevented access to higher education and to rewrite that history so residents of the west side see themselves as holders and creators of knowledge.” UNP serves as a bridge between organizations with similar goals and interests, Munro said.

The Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective was founded in April 2002 by five bicycle enthusiasts: Jonathan Morrison, Edward Whitney, Brenton Chu, Brian Price and Jesse Ratzkin. Its mission “is to promote cycling as an effective and sustainable form of transportation and as a cornerstone of a cleaner, healthier and safer society.” According to the website, the “Collective provides refurbished bicycles and educational programs to the community, focusing on children and lower income households.”

The Collective offers seven programs and services, two of which are youth programs for children living on Salt Lake City’s west side. One, Earn-A-Bike, helps kids learn bicycle mechanics and confidence.

“Kids get to come in, pick out a bike and they get to keep it. The catch is they have to take it all apart and put it back together themselves,” said Jonathan Morrison, executive director of the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective.

Bike mechanical skills aren’t the only skills learned through Earn-A-Bike. According to the Collective’s 2009 annual report, “In addition to learning bike mechanics, the children are mentored in time and resource management and many students become valuable mentors to their classmates.”

Morrison sees the impact his instruction has on his students, how it affects not only them, but also the kids they will teach.

“The best part was when they used their extra time and knowledge to become a peer-mentor,” Morrison said. “As an Earn-a-Bike instructor, those moments where the student becomes the teacher make it all worth it,” he said.

Another youth program, Trips for Kids, reconnects city youth with Utah’s mountains through mountain biking. Participants are able to take trips to Bonneville Shoreline Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail and Liberty Park with the help of adult and youth volunteers. According to the annual report, “Trips for Kids opens up the world of cycling to at-risk youth through mountain bike trips, which include lessons in personal responsibility, achievement, environmental awareness, practical skills and the simple act of having fun.”

Locations of the Bicycle Collective have extended to the Day-Riverside Library, the Ogden Bicycle Collective and the University of Utah community bike shop, located near the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Each location shares its volunteers and other nonfinancial resources. While services are limited to low-income youth and families on the west side, everyone is invited to volunteer. Students at the U may wish to volunteer at the campus bike shop.

For more information, call 801-FAT-BIKE (328-2453).

Salt Lake City organizations take wide approach to solving community challenges

Story and photo by RYAN McDONALD

Nearing the end of a stay in Palermo, Italy, while completing her doctoral dissertation, Sarah Munro was asked by some townspeople what knowledge she had to offer them after researching their way of living.

Members of the community wait to hear from Communidades Unidas Development Director Rose Maizner at The Pink Dress, an annual event held by the organization that took place on Oct. 14, 2011, at Pierpont Place in Salt Lake City.

She realized she had focused so much time and attention on her studies that she had missed a great opportunity to use her knowledge to help others.

Vowing to change that, Munro joined University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), which works as a sort of “bridge” between different groups of people and organizations that are in existence to promote positive changes. UNP focuses its efforts in  the neighborhoods of Rose Park, Glendale, Westpointe, Jordan Meadows, Poplar Grove, State Fairpark and People’s Freeway on the west side of Salt Lake City. One of UNP’s goals is that more students from these neighborhoods will one day attend the University of Utah.

“People don’t know how to talk to each other,” said Munro, UNP’s associate director, about why it exists.

One of the main premises behind UNP is that in order to help solve one problem, other issues need resolution, too. For example, in order to help kids have an opportunity for advanced education, not only do they need to be educated, but their parents also need to be taught how to help their children succeed.

UNP is not the only organization that uses multiple areas of focus to help solve one problem. Created in Midvale about 12 years ago by the city mayor, Comunidades Unidas (Communities United) was originally a neighborhood initiative to help reduce the high infant mortality rate and other prenatal problems in the Latino community. CU quickly realized, however, that more issues needed to be addressed to help curb these problems than a “Band-Aid solution,” said Rose Maizner, CU’s interim director.

“Women put their health very last,” Maizner said in describing how Latinas prioritize responsibilities over themselves.

Because so many things are affected when women get sick, such as their ability to work and the well-being of their children, CU not only helps people with the prevention of health problems, but also with the management of good health. For example, CU holds weekly Zumba classes at Salt Lake Community College.

CU, located at 1341 S. State St. in Salt Lake City, also serves immigrants and refugees from around the world.

Depending on which country immigrants or refugees are from, many are aware of the importance of staying healthy. But many women say, “We know what the risks (causes of illness) are, we just don’t know how to find help.”

Helping to provide access to women’s health care — such as offering mammography clinics and prenatal education — is still a mainstay of what the nonprofit organization does. Maizner said CU also involves itself in other facets of the lives of immigrants and refugees. CU strives to prevent a minor problem, such as an illness, from becoming a colossal list of challenges for a family.

“The ideal story is someone who comes to prenatal clinic, then we can show them other things,” said Maizner, who majored in multicultural psychology and Hispanic studies.

She likened “other things” such as community involvement to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She said one of the biggest challenges the organization faces is helping people move beyond survival mode and “getting to that next level of society,” such as being involved in school PTAs.

While CU is not in place to force immigrants and refugees to “become American,” Maizner said the organization feels it is crucial for the people with whom they work to gain the skills they’ll need to function from day to day, such as learning English.

“We stress the importance of being part of the larger society,” she said.

In addition, Maizner said it is just as important that those already here assimilate to these new members of their communities. In that vein, Maizner said CU is always looking for community volunteers to help with things like giving people rides to medical appointments.

University Neighborhood Partnership brings together university and west-side resources

Story and photo by SHELLY GUILLORY

Sarah Munro sat in a small community center in downtown Palermo, a city in southern Italy, after spending15 months conducting doctoral research with women who are active in the dangerous anti-Mafia movement. The director of the community center asked Munro to present her research regarding what she learned about the history and economic and social issues.

But Munro had one thought: I do not have anything to offer you that you don’t already know.

Speaking at the community center in 2000, surrounded by the director and the women who utilized the programs the center offered, Munro said she realized she missed an opportunity to use research in a way that was useful for the people she followed, interviewed and studied.

“As a researcher I had gone in there as researchers are trained to do, with my own questions, where it would have been an opportunity if I thought about it differently, to ask them what their questions were,” she said.

After finishing her doctoral work, Munro came to the University of Utah in 2002 with her husband, but knew she didn’t want to be a full-time academic. She heard about The West Side Initiative — a project that looked at how the U could become more engaged in west-side neighborhoods, which were ethnically diverse, socially and economically marginalized in Salt Lake City and underrepresented in student enrollment at the U.

The University Neighborhood Partnership  evolved in 2003 after Irene Fisher, who led the West Side Initiative, conducted more than 300 interviews with residents, leaders, organization officials, city officials and university faculty and administrators. Fisher, director of UNP until 2006, found that residents wanted to increase opportunities for youth through education, create initiatives to expand and support community leadership, and strengthen health, housing, employment, business, safety and environmental capacities.

The University Neighborhood Partners, located on 900 W. and 1060 South, brings together university and west-side resources.

Munro was responsible for developing UNP’s approach, which she said in an email provides a broader national conversation about truly collaborative community-based research and what defines that.

UNP acts as a mediator and bridge to the U and west-side nonprofits, resident groups and city governments and focuses its work in seven west-side neighborhoods, including Rose Park, Glendale, Poplar Grove, Westpointe and Jordan Meadows.

“The idea is not that the university goes out and does something in the neighborhood,” said Munro, now UNP’s associate director. “It’s not community service. It’s not doing it for them. It’s setting up collaborations where we find people, who are working on those issues in the neighborhood, and the university, who can bring together their teaching, research and community-based work, so we are learning from each other.”

Munro said UNP has more than 34 partnerships. Forty-three departments, including linguistics, engineering, and social work, and 40 community organizations, such as the U’s Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, are also involved. They all focus on and identify issues, including access to healthcare, language barriers, transportation and literacy, that challenge west-side residents to obtain the economic and educational opportunities that residents in other communities have.

Though UNP doesn’t directly do the work, the program has helped create partnerships that foster youth programs, life skill classes, resident committees, English classes, healthcare clinics and youth programs.

The UNP-Hartland Partnership Center is one example of a partnership that provides services that help overcome an issue, including lack of sufficient healthcare, which impedes access to higher education.

According to its website, The UNP-Hartland Partnership Center  is a project that implements programs to help residents living in the Seasons of Pebble Creek apartments, located on 1616 South, near Redwood Road, and those in the surrounding west-side communities. In addition to English-as-a-second language classes, financial classes and youth programs, the center offers health education.

Center Coordinator Kimberly Schmit said in a phone interview that UNP-Hartland Partnership Center is a not a clinic with direct medical services.

“They have a health-education referral program,” she said. “The partner is the College of Nursing at the U; the faculty and students do the work.”

One concrete example of research that helps west-side residents is a study done by researchers from the College of Social Work at the U, who focused on the mental health of children with refugee backgrounds. The researchers interviewed 22 service providers, including Valley Mental Health, Catholic Community Services and the Utah Health and Human Rights Project, as well as 21 youth with refugee backgrounds, who had been in the U.S. for at least a year.

Data from the interviews yielded a curriculum with lesson plans that focus on seven topics, such as social skills, emotional health, school rules, laws and safety, and family roles.

“This is where it becomes community building,” Schmit said. “They were getting their questions answered through her research. [The researchers] partnered with them, did the research and then gave them back her findings. That is where it is a little different [from other research]. We are looking for the partnership with the residents. The residents are the leaders.”

UNP’s Munro said research conducted by students at the center and in other UNP partnerships is not just for publication, but also helps the community strengthen itself.

“I see a big role for research,” she said. “But the way I want to see it done in the world is in really close connection with the people you are researching and letting the questions emerge from that.”

University Neighborhood Partners, Bad Dog Arts collaborate for Salt Lake City’s west side

Story and photo by BROOKE MANGUM

The University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) and Bad Dog Arts are collaborating to provide underprivileged youth on Salt Lake City’s west side opportunities to learn, discover and express themselves through art.

UNP is a program at the University of Utah that forms partnerships with organizations like Bad Dog Arts to create a greater sense of community between the U and west-side neighborhoods. It serves as a liaison between the U and west-side nonprofit organizations, resident groups and city governments.

“The reason for the focus on the west-side neighborhoods was because those neighborhoods were historically marginalized within Salt Lake City socially and economically and were incredibly under-represented at the U in terms of where students came from,” said Sarah Munro, UNP associate director.

UNP has been in this building since 2003.

Originally called the West Side Initiative, UNP developed about 10 years ago in response to feedback gathered during 300 interviews with area residents. Currently, UNP has 34 partnerships with 43 departments at the U that each focus on identified issues within the community such as race, ethnicity, religion, political views and geography.

“All of the UNP partners contribute to the community in different ways depending on their area of expertise,” said April Daugherty, program coordinator at Bad Dog Arts during an email interview. “Since our focus is in the arts, our role is to bring art into the community. Our role with UNP fulfills our mission to inspire youth from diverse cultures and offer art experiences to populations who would otherwise not have the opportunity.”

Bad Dog Arts has partnered with UNP for three years. It is located at 824 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. Bad Dog Arts is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire “at-risk and underserved” youth ages 5 through 18 to experience the power and freedom to imagine, dare, learn and challenge themselves through art. The hope is that  youth will develop self-confidence and be able to use these skills throughout their lives.

“It is a form of expression that has no boundaries, transcending language barriers,” said Victoria Lyons, Bad Dog Arts co-founder and director, in an email interview. “Bad Dog programs instill confidence and pride and give children a safe space to discover their innate creativity, artistic ability, purpose, and potential.”

Through the partnership of Bad Dog Arts and UNP, art classes are offered on a weekly basis at UNP’s Hartland Partnership Center. The center, located at 1060 S. 900 West, is often used as a place for campus-community partnership activities to take place.

During the fall and winter of 2011 and the spring of 2012, Bad Dogs Arts will be working with UNP on a mural art project that will be displayed at the Hartland Partnership Center.

“This project will be a collaborative effort of all the residents and staff of Hartland, involving children, teens and adults,” Daugherty said. “The theme of the project is ‘Community.’ Art brings people together and on this scale can really function as a tool for building community.”

Through activities and programs like this, UNP and its partners hope to bring together the U and west-side resources and create a community environment of learning that is mutually beneficial.

“Learning is reciprocal,” said Sarah Munro, UNP associate director. “There is important knowledge in a lot of different places and different forms. It is critical for people to learn to recognize that in others.”

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