spoken arts in Utah have had their ups and downs over the years,
having organizations rise and fall, and a lot of the grand
performance places close up shop. But Salt City Indie Arts hasn't
given up all that easily, and are looking to make a difference in the
state yet again. Replacing the old Slam! Utah group with a new
mission to promote the independent artists and small businesses of
Utah. I got a chance to chat with Salt City's Liaison Shae
Sveniker about the group, his thoughts on the scene and a number of
other topics. I also got to stop in at Baxter's Cafe this past
Saturday for one of their Slam nights to take pictures and meet those
Gavin: Hey Shae, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Shae: Shae was born in Ventura, California in '85, moved to Utah in '99, began writing in 2002, and began hosting the Cup Of Joe open mics in 2004. He was on the 2004 Slam Utah! Team and competed on behalf of Salt Lake City in St. Louis for the National Poetry Slam. He's competed for the Salt Pit on the 2005 (in Albuquerque), 2007(in Austin), and 2008 (in Madison) teams and coached the 2006(in Austin) team, competing in the Slam Master's Slam that year as well. He continues to write prose, music, page and performance poetry in the Salt Pit and hosts the Salt City Open at Baxter's every Saturday, and acts as Salt City Slam Liaison and Co-slammaster.
Gavin: For those who don't know, what is Salt City Indie Arts?
Shae: Salt City Indie Arts began way back in the deezee as Slam! Utah, an organization dedicated to the viability of spoken word as a respectable art form in the valley and the state. Later, it became Salt City Slam, to reflect the underground nature of the organization, and most recently, it has become Salt City Indie Arts as a way to promote local business through different art forms, not just spoken word, but also including visual arts, performance, theater, and music. Currently, Salt City Indie Arts' mission statement in a nutshell is to act as an umbrella for artists, from beginners to masters, to make their arts heard through the venues that sponsor us, while helping in turn to support those venues by holding events such as open mics, artist gallery debuts, workshops, and featured performers.
Gavin: How did the idea for all this come about, and was there any specific thing that kicked it all off for you?
Shae: After Cup Of Joe was shut down by greedy capitalists with no foresight, empathy, or common sense, a few of us banded together to attempt to create an arts organization that could help local businesses maintain their existences. Originally, there was Me, Kristy Gonzales (owner of Cup Of Joe), Eileen McGabe (poet/community organizer), and Reanne Von Cramme a.k.a. Repo (poet/event coordinator/curator). We raised money and helped Cup Of Joe make it through one last month at the Artspace building downtown. That organization eventually fell through, due to the troubles Kristy was having and egos clashing etc. Later, Michael Dimitri moved back to the Salt Pit, from Ithica New York, with a fiery passion for arts and community. He brought forth the idea of having an artist community, with a real-life example from somewhere in California that had created one. The social vacuum needed filling, so we all (people at the open mic, local coffee shop owners, Kristy, myself, etc) had a meeting, created the name of this all inclusive arts organization, and later that week, I put up a functional homepage and forum to begin further discussion. Tadaa!
Gavin: How did you organize and start the Slam events at Mestizo's and Baxter's?
Shae: The Mestizo open mic was started completely without us by the guy who owns the place, Terry, who is a total bad a$$. A couple weeks in, we decided Mestizo's would be a great place to have a more diverse crowd, attracting local poets from the Hispanic and Latino communities of the west side. I hope that Mestizo continues to grow and prosper and that eventually, that open mic will have their own slam team, and we can have intra-city bouts between the West Side Slam and the Salt City Slam teams. Baxter's was our only alternative after Cup Of Joe shut down. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Eileen McGabe for hosting the first ever open mic there on August 9th, 2008, and Bob from Rimini Coffee for allowing us to stay on. The Cup of Joe open mic had become not only the ONLY poetry open mic with be PSI Certified in the Salt Pit, but also a cultural destination. You could see first timers and national champions take their poems to the crowd in a single round of open mic, hear it totally uncensored, and have a kick-ass musical interlude or two during the night. Afterwards, there would always be a party somewhere, or an after-hours poetry event in an abandoned building, or a more subdued salon-style reading at someone's home. We hope to continue the tradition through Baxter's.
Gavin: How did you get those places, and others along the way, on board with events?
Shae: We have meetings almost every Saturday. Anyone is welcome to come and witness, anyone is welcome to comment online once they sign up for a free account on the forum, and everyone is welcome to the events. Bigger crowds been better profit for the night, mostly, and as long as our events Emcee promotes the hell out of the good food and beverages offered by our venues, I figure we'll always be welcome.
Gavin: What was the initial reaction to those events, from both audience and performers?
Shae: Reactions to these events vary. Mostly, an event that attracts a consistent ten people every week, if it's regular, will be considered a success. Baxter's has been going a long time, so we get average of about 30-45 people, often more, rarely less. Usually, we get about five people exposed to the organization every time we have a weekly event. Mestizo's has been supportive and awesome regarding all our free-speech activities, even offering to help us record albums and certify the west side slam there. Baxter's is building a bigger audience every week, because every week is slightly different. feature musicians fourth Saturdays, feature poets second, slam on third Saturday, and special events on fifths. Performers get their legs at Baxter's, and the audience gets to see them. We host a variety of readings, from rowdy to polite, based on the venue and emcee for the evening.
Gavin: You promote an artist and a venue of the month. How are those chosen, and do you do anything special with them?
Shae: Our artist of the month and venue of the month are both fairly irregular right now. It's a slow time of the economy and a slow time for touring artists, but they are both chosen by me and Michael. Our artist of the month would usually be a touring poet or musician, maybe even a visual artist, as long as they are feature in our shows and displays, hell, it could be you next week. In the future, we will be able to provide a small stipend for the artist, maybe to help them publish, or offset the cost of their supplies. Generally we try to have the featured artist do their own sets or display their own works at our featured venue, who is also chosen by me and Michael. The Venue of the Month is a venue that has generally shown the most support, attracted the newest crowds, and has excelled in other ways as well. Mestizo is our venue of the month because of the help they give the open mic, but also, because they were given an Arty by the City Weekly.
Gavin: Do you foresee yourselves making any kind of publication in the future, or would you rather work with already established ones?
Shae: We will work with any and all comers. Already in the process is a zine called Phantasm, a project headed by Amy Childress and sponsored by the City Library. We lend them the material, content, and our name, they distribute and produce it, we get more audience, they get more readers, it's a win win win situation. Eventually, I would like to set up a non-profit publishing firm called Salt City Publishes or something like that in order to publish local, independent, avant-guard artists.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on our literary scene, both good and bad?
Shae: The state-wide literary scene could use a tune-up and a jolt from, if not one, then several police-grade, weapon-style tazers. I would ideally like our organization to bring that much needed pain. We will open a can of literary whoop-a$$ to the streets of the Salt Pit, published in zines, independent chapbooks, and our own professional publishing company. On the upside, Ken Sanders is a great store and institution, they have been very supportive of the underground scene, they have a great events schedule, and their staff is some of the most knowledgeable individuals in the state. I give Ken Sanders two thumbs up. Kings English is good too. The Colleges ought to work on promoting their zines more because they're awesome, but are flying way under the radar of most Salt Pit residents.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Shae: Yeah, there's a lot the local scene can do...
Crawl out from beneath your rock and support your local open mic.
2. Publish your own chapbook, if you don't know how, ask me on a Saturday night, I'll learn'ya.
3. If you've got the time, check out Ken Sander's Rare Books and look at their schedule. Writers from across the country take precious hours to read there and sign their books for you. You'll be surprised how much you enjoy it.
4. Buy something from a local artist, they need your help to continue making the community a more beautiful place.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the local book stores and how they're holing up against bigger chains?
Shae: You'd have to ask Ken Sanders or Kings English that one. It seems that they're always struggling, but they will be around eternally because they rock.
Gavin: Do you feel like books are in decline with some being published online, or do you believe there will always be an audience there for a hand-held copy?
Shae: Statistics have shown that consumption of literature has declined, even with books being published online, and yet, we read all the time. Literature will definitely continue to flourish, and I doubt that the digital book will replace your favorite, worn and torn copy of A Man In Full. Books will remain cheap entertainment for centuries to come. There is no fear that will make books sell better, just better marketing and better writing.
Gavin: Do you wish there were any specific venues made for events like Slam events, or do you think its best they remain in more non-conventional places?
Shae: Non-conventional places help keep the spirit of slam and other avant guard art forms alive. When a slam can pack the Egyptian at $15 a ticket, you know these artists are catering to the audience too much. If we ever have a slam at the OBT, or some other local, indie theater, it better be a huge event, like and intra-city or inter-state competition. From Coffee Shops to Parking garages, the leaner and meaner the environment, the more you know the artists motives, the less chance that you'll be bulls#!&%ed into thinking that what you're watching is the real thing.
Gavin: What about your thoughts on our local art scene, again both good and bad?
Shae: This is a bad time for artists. The economy has slowed all extra-budget spending to a halt, but on the upswing, more people have the time to spend reading a book or painting or drawing now that they can't afford to go clubbin or watch a movie every night. It's been shown that the greatest leaps of art evolution happen during hard times, so I hope for this economic crisis' sake that this is a fact, because seriously, we're in a rut.
Gavin: Tell us about the Fall Festival happening this weekend.
Shae: 12PM to whenever the cops shut us down (just kidding). We will be family friendly until about 8pm or so. Ask Michael for more info. All I know is that we're having a huge bash with local artisans selling blown glass, live graffiti, live bands, story-telling, a Dead Poet's Slam, and, I don't know, bobbing for apples or something. Check out our website for more info too.
Gavin: Who do you currently have planned to attend to perform?
Shae: Myself and tons of local poets, musicians, and storytellers, including the band Violet Run.
Gavin: What can we expect from you guys the rest of the year and going into next?
Shae: Quarterly indie arts festivals featuring local artisans, performers, and artists, continued open mics and slams, an increase in our capacity for visual art and music, the beginning of a theater sub-community, slams, featured artists, craziness, loud poems, and shocking visual displays. And a lot of flyers. A lot.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Shae: Performance and content workshops every Saturday at 6PM at Baxter's Cafe. Learn from nationally ranked slam poets including myself. learn how to perform using proven stage techniques, workshop your pieces and make them what you want them to be, and learn how to make your own chapbook. Prizes for students. Yearly curriculum posted here in our forum.