Gnomes keep surfacing in 9th and 9th, saying ‘whale no’ to Salt Lake City’s plans for ocean art

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Residents of the 9th and 9th neighborhoods of Salt Lake City to the east say the gnomes who took a roundabout at 1100 East and 900 South known as “Gnome Hill” had something magical.

The figures appeared about a year and a half ago when the construction of the roundabout was completed.

Now business owners and local residents are fighting against a planned massive humpback whale sculpture called “Out of the Blue”, which the Salt Lake City Arts Council plans to install on the hill in the fall.

“Nobody knows where the gnomes came from,” said Scott Maynard, owner of the nearby M. Scott Salon. “You come at night. … It’s not just one person. It’s a small army of people who just don’t want a whale there. “

The protests reached a new level when a human-sized gnome with cheetah boots and a sign that read “Whales belong in the sea” appeared recently. The hill was adorned on all sides with messages like “There is no place like gnomes” and “Oh whale no!”.

Maynard says there should be a poll to ask neighborhood residents what kind of art installation they would like to see, but he has never heard of it from the Salt Lake City Art Council or Art Design Board, or anyone else he knows .

When the council announced that renowned Utah sculptor Stephen Kesler would build what the artist describes as “a four-foot-wide whale hug,” it was “quite a shock” to Maynard.

“Lots of people took offense,” Maynard said. “Of all the possible works of art, it was clearly not our choice. We asked ourselves how thoroughly [the council’s] The test was about what companies and neighbors would choose. “

The council declined to comment on this story and instead referred to a blog post with answers to frequently asked questions about whale sculpture.

While the gnomes would have to be temporarily removed during the installation of “Out of the Blue”, the council’s contribution states that “we see no reason why public art and gnomes cannot coexist”.

The council states that the project was discussed in seven public meetings, two public briefing sessions, a meeting of the East Liberty Park community organization, and a survey that generated more than 100 responses.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The tallest gnome at 900 South 1100 East roundabout in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 24, 2021.

Still, Bridget Mahony, who owns The Bridal Studio on the northwest corner of the roundabout, said she and her neighbors were “taken by surprise” by the plans for the whale statue “because we are on the mountain, not the sea. I guess we just miss the connection why it’s a whale. “

This is exactly what the council’s blog notes are all about. The neighborhood is “unexpected and out of the blue,” the artist Kesler is quoted as saying. “A community in which people with all backgrounds, beliefs and ideas migrate and feel they belong. A community bursting with expectations; Demand respect for nature, the ideas and the identity of others. “

Despite the demonstrations by the “gnome people” and the creation of a petition, the Cultural Council showed no signs of withdrawal. Mahony said the city removed any gnomes and shields that had been left on the hill in March.

“As soon as the whale was announced and they got involved, the gnomemen went overboard,” Maynard said. “You went all the way. Suddenly there were twice as many gnomes. It became a kind of gentle protest. Let the gnomes and the whales live in peace. “

Maynard said he was concerned that the whale sculpture could drive away potential customers because it did not match “the nature” of the neighborhood, which is home to several law firms, bridal shops and high-end hair salons.

“Imagine if a bride is supposed to turn around and look at her beautiful, several thousand dollar dress, and there’s that big whale by the window,” Maynard said. “There was a lot of discussion going on and we thought it would at least get the Arts Council to step back … but they never did.”

The installation is designed to show murals on the body of the whale by a changing cast of local artists. Maynard fears that the sculpture could become a target for graffiti.

Connor Sanders | The Salt Lake Grandstand. Residents of the 9th and 9th quarters of Salt Lake City are protesting with gnomes against the installation of a large whale sculpture at a roundabout at 1100 E and 900 S.

Mahony said the gnomes represent “the neighborhood’s frustration over the roundabout with those ugly bushes.” She said she doesn’t care what the installation represents – as long as it represents the “progressive and forward-looking” values ​​that the community upholds.

“I want something that symbolizes that a little more,” said Mahony. “I’m not sure if a whale would be the first animal I would think of. Maybe a unicorn? “

Maynard wonders why Gnome Hill needs an installation. “Why couldn’t we put some native grass and flowers up there with a park bench?”

He said the whale sculpture could spark a lot of discussion if placed in the West Desert, much like the Spiral Jetty on Great Salt Lake. But he doubts it would be planted like that in the middle of town.

“Out of the Blue” was unanimously recommended by the Salt Lake City Art Design Board. It is hand sculpted from recyclable foam and then made from fiberglass around a steel frame.

The statue will be 23 feet tall, according to the council’s blog post, and will meet public safety standards and best practices from the city transportation department.

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