GARFO -- overseen by curators Kenny Riches and City Weekly contributor Cara Despain under the direction of the Visual Art Institute -- has been nothing if not a unique space for boundary-pushing contemporary art. Housed at the Garfield School for 29 years, the institute must relocate because the current property owner, Westminster College, has other plans for the building. VAI will stay afloat; GARFO might not.
A public closing for GARFO and its last exhibit, Press Plush, will take place from 7-10 p.m. at the center (1838 S. 1500 East, 801-474-3796, VisualArtInstitute.org/GARFOArtCenter) on Saturday, June 4. Press Plush is a survey of contemporary soft sculpture, textile and fiber arts that focuses on expanding the context of the medium beyond what is commonly thought of as craft.
In preparation for the event, we’ve asked some artsy folks this question: What does GARFO Art Center mean to you?
“GARFO meant a lot to me; the opportunity that presented itself (an unused space in an abandoned building) was pretty incredible, and we were able to share the experience that ensued both with VAI's students (and introduce them to the public) and with our peers and artists across the globe. I think the community we were able to create in GARFO's two short years and the support they offered us is what meant the most. We learned a lot. While Kenny had had a gallery before, neither of us had run a non-profit art center before and we sort of learned as we went. Having support for taking a risk and doing something different in Salt Lake is crucial to new projects--especially when it comes to art.”
—Cara Despain, GARFO co-curator
“When we first looked at the space in Garfield with the idea that we could convert a portion of the building into an alternative exhibition space ,we weren't quite sure of the reception that we would get—being a bit off the beaten path. We had really no available funds to even start the venture, but found materials that could be reused and of course some dedicated staff that were willing to put in the sweat equity to transform the old abandoned library into this unusual space. The idea was to give students at Visual Art Institute the opportunity to work with a variety of artists and to be challenged to expand their concept of what art is. GARFO has kindly been embraced by the local art community and supported by generous donations that have allowed it to grow and mature.
The vision has always been so much more, but understandably required time to come to fruition. GARFO really hit its stride just as Visual Art Institute learned that it would have to move. GARFO has been a forum for alternative visions and while not comprehensive nor all inclusive of prevailing genres, has become a gathering place of art dialogue.
One thing that I have seen happen over the two years that GARFO has been in existence is that it has been a beehive of energy, passion, vision, and dreams for a wide variety of artists that have gotten excited about the possibilities of a space dedicated to contemporary art. The number of artists getting involved and patrons coming forward to support the efforts have been impressive and growing stronger with each exhibition. We are sorry to have this coming to an end.”
—Bruce Robertson, Visual Art Institute director
“While I had visited GARFO off and on for the past year, I became more involved when the Oh Nancy Art Collective had a show there in November 2010. Through mutual friends, I was invited to perform and work on a collaborative, narrative-based exhibition called The Hideout. Working on that project opened up a space where I was working closely with the visiting artists in the collective, Cara, as well as other artists in Salt Lake City. GARFO's group shows were always interestingly curated, but this particular exhibition was brought together in an energetic, performative way, local artists and their own practices. I hadn't really collaborated with or riffed-off my peers in the past, and that space kind of propelled a new way of participating in and looking at art for me.”
—Morganne Wakefield, Salt Lake City artist
“GARFO is the best! GARFO manages a very delicate balance between education, community and contemporary art. That is such an absurdly relevant and rare combination. [Cara and Kenny] are amazing people and I blame them for all the welcoming, friendly, talented artists we [Oh Nancy] had the privilege of working with in Salt Lake City [on The Hideout]. They are also very well informed and are able to see GARFO in a larger world context. GARFO is such a unique place. I wish there was one everywhere I went. There is just one though and it's awesome. I am sorely tempted to fly to Utah for each new show.”
—Fionn McCabe, artist with the Boston-based Oh Nancy Collective
“GARFO was fresh and full of possibility. The first time I went there and saw Cara and Kenny's "classroom" studio I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. The walls of vintage blackboards (green actually) lined with metal ledges to hold chalk and erasers, and all the left over bits of crepe paper and elementary school ticky-tacky made me want to weep. I was inspired to overhaul my studio to try to feel fresh again, because it made me remember that art is all about space - not just wall space and picture space, but head-space, and the space in a long afternoon. The other thing is that Cara and Kenny are brilliant. They set the bar extremely high with their professionalism and the range of shows they curated for GARFO. “
—Tessa Lindsey, Salt Lake City artist
"Cara and Kenny are two of our best friends, so watching their project succeed has meant a lot to us. As part of the VAI, GARFO has been dedicated to being educational, experiential, community-focused, and accessible to all ages. GARFO placed local and student work next to nationally-touring work and fostered engagement between contemporary and visionary artists at various stages of their career in ways that we've never experienced with any other venue. We're so sad to see GARFO go; we're losing a source of inspiration, our collective studio and our clubhouse."
—Hanki Frankie (Mary Toscano and Andrew Shaw), Salt Lake City artists