The Oxbow – From Concept to Construction


Teens are often defined by their rebellious and self-centered attitudes. However, that is not what Donna Pence, the artist working on the OurSLC Claimit! project, found when she met with Glendale students  to talk about a meeting place at the Oxbow site. What she witnessed while working with them is that many were in search of place – a place to call their own where they could be their authentic selves without having to worry about daily struggles. They worked on designing the Oxbow to be a place where people of all ages and backgrounds come together to tell and share their stories and claim this beautiful space within their neighborhood. With this in mind, they created the “Chill Space”.

Student sketch

Student sketch

The “Chill Space” is a circular seating area with a pavilion and decorative/eco-friendly water and light features. This idea is inspired by a traditional fire pit arrangement for storytelling. Once the concept was approved by the Salt Lake City Arts Council Design Board, the next step involved taking it from concept to plan.


scale model

Scale model

Habitat , landscaping and structure were all taken into consideration. In meetings with Parks and Public Lands, one thing that was suggested was that the site provide opportunities for nature study. So, it was decided to incorporate cloud types in the canopies, burning animal tracks in the canopy poles, and various native plant species in thelandscaping, and benches.

The central “fire pit” for the Chill Space/ Story Circle at the Oxbow will be a mosaic representation of fire and water. The students who worked on the concept had the opportunity to work on the mosaic for a week in July at the Sooxbowmural3renson Unity Center.


Next step was to prepare the plans for approval by an engineer.


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After the plans were approved by city engineers, work began at the site. Step one was to deliver the “shaved” lodge pole pine trees. Some of the poles have animal tracks burned into them to look like an animal ran up the tree with muddy feet.

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When complete, this ‘chill space’ will be a beautiful gathering place for the community, conceived by the community.

Latinos in Action at the 9-Line Pump Track

Latinos in Action students Help Envision Future Public Art at the 9-Line Pump Track


Students from the Latinos in Action program at Glendale Middle School bicycled to the 9-Line Pump Track (900 South and 700 West) to offer their ideas for a future public art installation at the site on Thursday, April 7. The art installation consisted of painting murals and bicycle frames. Students also had the chance to ride the pump track and enjoy Belgian waffles from Waffle Love food truck. They also had the opportunity for Salt Lake Tribune to capture their involvement.

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The event is a part of “OurSLC: Claim it!”, a city-managed, community-driven art project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The project will result in public art installations in three locations on Salt Lake City’s west side: 9-Line Pump Track, Fred and Ila Rose Fife Wetland Preserve, and Sorenson Unity Center. The installations are expected to be complete by the end of the year.


Out at the Oxbow


CityLab teens got the chance to get out and about with Lewis Kogan and Nancy Monteith from Salt Lake City’s Parks and Public Lands Division as they toured the Oxbow Site. If you haven’t been there, this is the area just west of where 900 South meets the Jordan River, and where the river makes a gigantic bend (called an oxbow). The whole area has recently been transformed into a wetlands wildlife viewing area, and will soon have a community artwork designed by CityLab.

Lewis helped the Claim it! students learn something about the history of the space, from it being a train line, to a dump, to now a beautiful natural place. We also learned about how the water can soak through the ground and make the pond area go up and down. This means that our design will have to be firmly planted, or flexible enough to survive the floods. Thanks to Lewis and Nancy for guiding us on what can and can’t be included in our installation. Sorry Gabby, we still can’t put a snack shack on one of the little islands, but we can make a chill spot for community gathering.


Along the Jordan River at the Oxbow Nature Park Site


4.5-acre “Oxbow” micro-wetlands restoration area prior to site work, 2012


Legos in the Lab

This week in CityLab, we’ve been working on lego models of what the teens have coined, “The Chill Space”. They propose it be installed at the Jordan River Oxbow. Currently, the space is underutilized by residents and could use a personal/community touch. Here’s where we come in! The CityLab teens hope to have a fully functioning fire pit with surround seating, a pavilion of sorts, and decorative/eco-friendly water and light features. They expect the space to be frequented by local community members especially during the spring and summer months. Stay reading as we develop our ideas in the coming weeks!


Welcome to OurSLC Blog!

OurSLC is a multi-year civic arts project hosted by the Sorenson Unity Center in collaboration with the West Salt Lake communities of Glendale and Poplar Grove and in partnership with the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Salt Lake City Division of Parks and Public Lands.

See the work being done as part of the OurSLC: Claim it! with Youth City, City Lab and Latinos in Action at Glendale Middle School and The Westside Storytelling Project by clicking on the tabs on the right under post categories. You can find community member’s participation under the Claim it! photography project link. You can even make your own claim about what is important to you or how you think space should be claimed in your neighborhood by clicking on Get Involved. Lastly, you can find information on upcoming exhibits and related public programs under the Exhibits tab.

Thank you for helping us build this exciting community project.

What We’ve Been Doing This Summer

Jesus walks into the art room with a quiet respect for space where art is made. I write the prompt on the board: What do you claim in your life? He tells us, he claims his art and that it’s the thing that brought him back to school.

In our weekly processIMG_1146 to ClaimIt!, some students’ artistic dedication and love for the arts has emerged more fully. The ClaimIt! framework recognizes the potential that already exists in students and now allows it to become a mantra. During our classes, we’ve discussed claiming one’s own story, drawings and even recognizing when one’s claims can be false or incomplete about others or themselves. Jesus is just one of the students that has used the language of ClaimIt! to make his art and call upon others to perceive the world through his eyes.

One of the most striking entries in his drawing notebook came through this image and the following thoughtful caption, “If I could claim the world, I would end all lies and I would end poverty and killing–Will you fly or fall?”

Continue reading


Chris – The Painter (aka Civic Arts Studio Project chrisbwManager) is a native Utahn who grew up in the foothills of Mount Timpanogos.  He started painting landscapes in his twenties, with frequent excursions to the UTah backcountry to fuel inspiration. He continues to paint today, although a career in the nonprofit and education sectors provided Chris with opportunities to expand his practice into  community art, art education, and mural projects. He holds a BFA in Painting from Brigham Young University and from the University of Utah, he’s earned an MPA and an MS in Environmental Humanities.  Some of his project include the Sugarspace Mural Project, Hawkwatch Mural Project, Sorenson ArtPark, and multiple projects at the Tracy Aviary. Chris  is currently working as the Director of the Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

photo meMegan – The Educator (aka Civic Arts Curator) was raised in San Diego and spent her first 17 years there. She went to college in St. Mary’s City, Maryland and graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts. She later obtained a masters degree in education from the University of Utah. She has been working as an art teacher for the last 15 years, in a variety of settings. These have included a botanical garden, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and now, the Salt Lake City School District. She is interested in helping people of all ages and abilities find confidence in creating art and sharing their stories in all possible forms. She has curated and co-produced a number of art exhibits involving youth including Community: Eat, Work, Play, Thrive at Art Access and participated in Drive By Art, located in downtown Salt Lake City. She is currently the director of the non-profit Framework Arts,which is a project-based, curriculum-building organization that engages youth and educators throughout the community in creating and representing personal narratives.

moanablog7Moana – The Storyteller (aka Teaching Artist/Community Arts Coordinator) was born on the Westside of Salt Lake City to ‘Alama and Losaline ‘Ulu’ave, both of Niuafo’ou, Tongatapu. She is an Oprah Winfrey High School Essay Contest winner and a Gates Millennium Scholar. In April of 2012, she graduated with University Honors from BYU in English and a minor in Sociology. Her honors thesis was entitled, Tauhi Va: Nourishing the Space Between–A Collection of Essays which dealt with her love of growing up in Glendale and her identities as a Mormon, Tongan, and American. In May 2014, she graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the Arts in Education program. Today, you can find Moana at the Sorenson Unity Center serving her own community through arts and activism. In her spare time, she likes to laugh with her family, watch sitcoms, and write brief, but fierce essays.

Local Community Members – YOU! (aka The Artists) This is your chance to participate in creative community art making and imagine a more vibrant community.. We’ll be sharing more details in the coming weeks, so please, subscribe or contact us

The Launch of Claim It!


Claim– to assert ownership, stake a claim, delineate a space, demand recognition.

“I claim my name,” a seven-year-old art student asserts. She forms a house out of purple paper triangles. “What have you made?” I ask. She replies, “This is a building, these are rivers, this is a mountain, and this. . . is a water snake.” We both smile. And with that she’s claimed the 11×17 inch paper for her own; crafted buildings, water sources, and mountains. Her creativity demands recognition, even if it’s just from me, her art teacher.

In our Claim It! class at the Sorenson Unity Center – every Monday and Wednesday – YouthCity students find ways to Claim It! through art and the exploration of place and community. Partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts: Our Town grant, the Civic Arts Studio @ Sorenson is a multi-year community art program that engages residents of the Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods in activation and conversation around the key places in West Salt Lake. Working through a variety of civic engagement activities and co-creative programs, youth groups and residents will explore what it means to claim their neighborhood, its rich history, diverse cultures and current vitality. Claim it! will render it visible through site-specific art installation designs slated for specific “opportunity zones” identified in the new West Salt Lake Master Plan.

The posts in this blog will document these civic engagement activities and programs and the day-to-day discoveries students make with claiming the world around them. We hope you will enjoy the journey as we claim OurSLC!