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Gavin's Underground

Artopia

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-07-25 -

In the fallout of what was once Sugarhouse, many of the businesses that once called the area home are finding new locations to re-establish and call home. For once of those businesses, the transition was easier and better that they could have hoped for.

The glasswork venue Artopia reopened its doors on Exchange Place in the heart of downtown, continuing the locally owned tradition that kept it alive on the east side. Showcasing glass art as well as graffiti and pop culture art all over the building, while housing a small music venue downstairs for several genres to play. I got a chance to chat with owner and glass artist Lee Cano about his store, his work, moving from Sugarhouse and some other stuff that came to mind. Oh, and I took some pictures from this past Saturday's show that featured the band
Patter Stats.

Lee Cano

http://www.myspace.com/artopiagifts

Gavin: Hey Lee. First off, tell us a little about yourself.

Lee: I am a glass artist and musician, I'm interested in art and community and creating art individually and in a community context. I lived in Portland Oregon for thirteen years before moving back to SLC for my family, I learned a lot during those years while producing an underground music TV program, playing in bands and with DJ's and generally immersed in DIY culture.

Gavin: For those who don't know, what is Artopia?

Lee: Artopia is a gift shop and gallery. We started with handmade glass and eventually expanded to include posters, clothing, incense, locally crafted and created items and art

Gavin: How did the idea for the shop first come about and what was it like getting it started up?

Lee: When I came back to SLC four years ago I needed to earn a living and I wanted to continue creating with glass, so I started a shop in Sugarhouse. Getting started was crazy, time consuming and all encompassing, it was no cake walk.

Gavin: When it comes to the glasswork, do you have a specific crafter on hand, or do you have several people who provide material?

Lee: We work with several local artists and I create a good deal of our inventory myself.

Gavin: Do you ever feel like you're in competition with places like Knuckleheads, or do you feel more like you're doing your own thing?

Lee: This is definitely not about competition with anyone other than myself. Competition is a poor catalyst for creativity. I love to make glass, it's that simple. Also I know Mike from Knuckleheads and he's a cool cat.

Gavin: You've also made your location into a venue. What brought about that decision?

Lee: We have a beautiful, historic location on Exchange Place in downtown SLC and I want to make it available to musicians, artists, and the whole community for a gathering place. We are not a formal venue, but I'm glad to host so much quality art and music.

Gavin: When it comes to art, you focus more on graffiti and street art. Do you feel like it gets an unfair look in Salt Lake City?

Lee: I think it gets an incomplete look in SLC, I hope to help change that by creating an opportunity for people to have more intimate contact with art and the artists and culture that created it. Art has a liberating effect on people, it makes a community healthy. Artists are producers, contrast that with consumerism, there is no comparison. I noticed there were graff artists featured at this years Arts Fest in SLC, good news.

Gavin: What's your take on the graffiti from things like
337 Project and the commissioned art along the Trax lines?

Lee: The 337 Project is extremely important and valuable, props to all who were involved with creating such a masterwork. 337 should be part of a larger process of creating real art that is accessible to people, we should keep creating 337's. As for the art along the Trax lines, its a real hit and miss proposition aesthetically but hey at least it's art.

Gavin: For people looking to check it out, what can they expect to find in the Underground Gallery?

Lee: We have hosted Punk, Reggae, Dancehall, Hip Hop, Folk, Dubstep, Rock, Blues... so the experience changes according to the event. You will find a place for art and music and community.

Gavin: I understand Artopia was one of the many who suffered from the death of Sugarhouse. What happened?

Lee: Retail gentrification demolished dozens of local enterprises and the experience of community that went with them leaving a hole in the ground and a hole in the community. The businesses that were affected are locally created and symbiotic with the neighborhood and community, now we are working through the challenges of dislocation. My response is to foster creativity in the face of destruction.

Gavin: Do you regret leaving Sugarhouse, or do you feel it's better to move on with all that's happening in that area now?

Lee: I miss Sugarhouse but my spot in Sugarhouse has been demolished, I am here now and I want to benefit my new neighborhood and help create a good experience downtown on Exchange Place.

Gavin: If the opportunity ever came, would you go back or do you feel it wouldn't be right now?

Lee: Right now I'm immersed in re-starting this business and expanding it, Sugarhouse is a dream of what was at this point. I am dreaming of what is possible right here, right now.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to move downtown? Was it by choice or was it simply the quickest available space?

Lee: I was enchanted by this location and the possibilities for Exchange Place and this neighborhood. Our new location is almost 100 years old and is listed on the national register of historic landmarks, it cannot be demolished and it has great character. People come here and say that this place reminds them of Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Portland. Cool places. They love the vibe here... so did I.

Gavin: What's your feeling on the new location, both good and bad?

Lee: The new location has been a challenge since Exchange Place (350 South, just West of State Street) is kind of an obscure location, but our customers from Sugarhouse are slowly finding us again and we have new stuff happening with this awesome gallery space. On balance I think we made a good move.

Gavin: A little on the scenes in Utah, what's your take on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Lee: The local music scene in Utah is starting to show some signs of maturing into something with a strong current of continuity and diversity. Both good things for fostering a strong music culture that can endure. In the past Utah music culture often seemed sporadic at best but I think that is changing now.

Gavin: Anything you think could be done to make it better?

Lee: Yeah, support local music in your everyday life. Support the artists that create for you, go to shows or play them, support venues that facilitate local music, advocate for more music and art and a healthier society. Help proliferate music and culture in our community. We are making life better in SLC with music, remember that.

Gavin: How about the art scene, both good and bad?

Lee: I am glad to see formal arts organizations beginning to facilitate non-conventional artists here in Utah, thats important. I hope to be a part of a conscious expansion of the parameters of what is appreciated as valuable and artistic. More art is good, less art is bad.

Gavin: And anything to make that scene bigger or better?

Lee: Awaken from sleep, we are creators not consumers, producers not products. It's what you make it. You are culture.

Gavin: What can we expect from Artopia the rest of the year?

Lee: We will be working to improve our ability to serve the community and make Artopia a place where SLC is comfortable. Home is where the art is.

Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug?

Lee: Yeah. Exchange Place is cool, come check out the neighborhood and the shop, maybe you can hold an event here, or come check out some local music. Oh yeah, check out our locally created glass too.

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