In May 2011, Hraef’n Wulfson, creative director of McGrew Studio and the unofficial “mayor” of Pierpont Avenue, sought to place the street—located between 300 and 400 West and 200 and 300 South—on Salt Lake City’s artistic map as a destination for craft boutiques, textiles and all things artsy by forming a Pierpont District Association. There were even plans to incorporate it into a nonprofit that would be able to receive city grants to promote Pierpont.
But Aug. 2, Wulfson resigned as director shortly after two other board members of the five-person board resigned, signaling the likely demise of the upstart artists’ association, as no one has yet filled the director position. Some business owners complained they were never brought onto the “mayor’s” agenda, while the main reason the fledgling organization’s dissolution came about may be because members couldn’t seem to commit to organizing while focusing on their own creative endeavors.
Wulfson remains a Pierpont fixture. He’s easily spotted on Pierpont, with his handlebar mustache, circular spectacles and black derby hat. He holds meetings with state officials dressed as a Victorian alchemist and, even since his resignation, speaks with as much sincerity about the greatness of Pierpont as ever.
“In the interest of the greater goal I was trying to accomplish, it would be better to have an organization that had someone at the head that people weren’t taking issue with,” Wulfson says. “Because they were starting to take issue with me.”
In his short time leading the association, Wulfson helped orchestrate a number of Artiscene street festivals on the block to help draw new eyes to check out the street and learn about its various new businesses—such as Tissú Fine Fabric & Design Gallery and Brand32 Design—as well as rediscover longtime ’Pont fixtures like vintage furniture shop Elemente.
“I obviously have been the catalyst for many of these things,” Wulfson says. “I was leading the charge, and what happened was that there started to be a lot of internal bickering.”
Dale Webster, who operates The Sewing Parlour, says her business never had much say in the process. She says the two street fairs the association put on with the help of the Downtown Alliance came out of nowhere, and she was given less than a day’s notice about the fact that street vendors would be using the parking spaces in front of her building.
“I didn’t even know until the last minute there wasn’t going to be any parking, and I need parking for my people,” Webster says. She says vendors in front of her business seemed to distract customers away from her business rather than bring them in. “I didn’t even stay open during the last one,” she says. “I think it was kind of an interruption.”
Webster also was concerned about what the association’s mission was. While she wasn’t able to regularly attend the association’s monthly meetings, she says her interactions with other board members left her wondering how the association would accomplish its mission.
“I just think it was too fast, too soon,” Webster says. She says the organization seemed to be putting on events before it really defined a vision or figured out a way to include all the Pierpont businesses in the decision-making process.
Sean Patrick McPeak of Brand32 Design resigned from the board in late July, about a week before Wulfson did. (Tamara Fox of Gray Wall Gallery also resigned.) McPeak says the “ambiguous” goals of the association helped motivate him to resign. While he was passionate about Pierpont, he felt the organization also seemed to be seeking to cover businesses located beyond Pierpont Avenue.
“When I first joined, I thought it would be more centralized to this location on this block,” McPeak says. “I just wanted community here.” McPeak says that the association was expanding faster than it could address its growing pains, and that he worried that other elements in the city wanted it to expand sooner and faster.
“There were outside influences in the city that wanted it to be bigger,” McPeak says. “That’s OK if that’s what it becomes, but I didn’t have the resources, time-wise, to devote to that.”
While McPeak was not specific about outside influence, Teresa Spas, the secretary of the association and owner of Tissú, says that the association’s only other partner, essentially, was the Downtown Alliance. The alliance allowed the association to basically operate under its “umbrella” for the Artiscene festivals and events, using its insurance. Spas says that when the board began discussing having its own liability insurance, legal coverage and other essentials of being a formal organization, board members like McPeak questioned if the investment in a formal organization was worth the risk.
“But just the fact that [liability] could be a possible thing really scared some people off,” Spas says. “I think that, and some of these other complaints, kind of made people go.”
For Spas, Wulfson’s resignation is no indictment on his intentions or his ambitions.
“It was my impression that it was his mission to make it known that this is a vibrant business district with a lot of great stuff going down here. He was trying to create some curiosity and get people down here again,” Spas says. “It’s hard just because there’s a lot of different personalities and businesses on the block.”
For people on the ’Pont, a setback like this isn’t going to stop businesses from continuing to carve their niche as one of Salt Lake City’s most eclectic and artsy avenues. Teresa Bell of Elemente, a shop that’s been on Pierpont for more than 20 years, says that struggle is a constant in artistic communities, where creativity tends to trump the desire to organize politically.
“The Pierpont has always learned to exist through change,” Bell says.
It’s a note echoed by former board member McPeak, who felt the street could establish itself better by staying as close to its grass roots as possible.
“I like to benefit and help starving artists and give them a voice and share that with the city,” McPeak says. “But politics isn’t my thing.”