Utah Arts Festival memories spark a few smiles—and hunger pangs

By Chris Vanocur

Once upon a time, the Utah Arts Festival inspired me to commit some mildly devious reporting mischief.

As a TV reporter, I’d agreed to help judge a UAF food contest. But my bosses actually wanted me to work and do a story about the festival instead. Well, clearly, my priority was eating as much festival food as I could. So I enlisted an intern and a cameraman to go shoot my story while I stuffed my face. The intern wrote and voiced the piece, weaving together shots of festival attractions and me eating tasty foods.

Recalling these edible antics makes me smile. It makes me realize the arts festival has been a recurring and valued presence in my life.

Other festival memories include introducing the Staples Singers, hearing blues legend Charles Brown for the first time and taking part in a “celebrity” poetry reading. I vaguely remember picking a politically charged poem that seemed to stun the unwoke audience.

The year 2019 marks the 43rd annual Utah Arts Festival. While I haven’t been to all of them, I’ve attended my share over the decades, either as an art lover, a volunteer or a reporter. In fact, one of my favorite festival stories—in addition to the one the intern did for me—came about some time back, when the event was held near what is now the Vivint Smart Home Arena.

I was a young, green reporter, cutting my chops on the weekend shift. Instead of doing a generic arts-festival overview, my story had a bit of a whimsical edge. I showed how some younger and single Utahns attending the festival weren’t really there for the art but more to meet cute guys and girls. I’m not sure festival officials loved the piece, but the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

Now, for whatever reason, my Vamoose editor seems to like it when I include useful facts and information in my stories. So, here’s the 411 for 2019: UAF runs Thursday through Sunday, June 20-23. Adults admission is $15 dollars, while children 12 and under are free. Seniors and military get a discount. You can also save some money on a non-weekend lunchtime special or a four-day pass. And, as has been the case for many years, the festival will be held downtown at Library and Washington Park squares.

The festival bills itself as the “largest outdoor multidisciplinary arts event in Utah.” This probably means you will experience a bit of everything, from kiddie face painting to high-flying acrobats dancing on the library’s glass walls. Every year, upward of 70,000 festivalgoers come to inhale this array of arts. And, of course, to gorge upon the eclectic festival food I once taste tested.

Given my impeccable culinary judging credentials, I asked Lisa Sewell, UAF’s executive director, why food is an important part of the festival. “It’s important to give festival attendees a positive and memorable experience,” she said. “Food connects us to past experiences—family gatherings, special events and always holidays.”

When she mentioned the food-and-family connection, something clicked. I was reminded of what one of my favorite cooks had written almost a half century ago. This female foodie wrote several cookbooks, had a cooking segment on TV and was a food columnist for the Washington Post. She also dabbled in fashion design.

She began one of her newspaper columns with these artful words, “I am convinced that many people take up cooking because it is creative as well as practical. It is a form of art.”

The name of this food columnist was Edith Vanocur, my mother. Perhaps, this is part of the reason I’ve always felt at home at the Utah Arts Festival. Its artistic bent, creativity and food help connect me to my past and to my family.

This electrifying convergence of art and food reminds me of a vital lesson my mother once taught me: Don’t talk with your mouth full! This may be why I assigned the intern to tell my arts festival story while I was busy eating.

Too bad she was unable to write this story as well. I think both the arts festival officials and Vamoose editors would have preferred that. Utah Arts Festival

Library Square
200 E. 400 South,
Sat Lake City
June 20-23, 2019
Noon-11 p.m.