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.


chill-space3                      chill-space5

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.

chill-space2                      chill-space
When complete, this ‘chill space’ will be a beautiful gathering place for the community, conceived by the community.

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


Five Ways Arts Projects Can Improve Communities

In his book, The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts and Culture, Tom Borrup identifies 5 ways that arts projects can improve communities. OurSLC Claim it! utilizes a project design that hopes to validate each of these :


Through community- based art making with youth groups and community members we are providing opportunities for increased interactions and invitations for shared conversation.


We have been honored to be a part of many already existing celebrations and will offer some of our own opportunities through our exhibits and documentation at the Unity Center and then again when the three public artworks are installed.


Our work was shaped from the start by a desire to work with youth from multiple age groups and settings and allow them to claim spaces and places from their own perspectives.


These artworks, and all of the work leading up to them call attention to the cultural richness of the Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods.


As community-based arts practitioners we hope to bring people together in conversation and cultural engagement with the West Salt Lake Master Plan and fulfill the specific goals expressed by the community.


The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook can be ordered from the publisher, Fieldstone Alliance. For more information or

Get Involved: Make Your Own Claim


We all make claims every day.

We claim our allegiances- to communities, cultures, clubs and sports teams.

We claim space with signs, fences, parking spots and walls.

We claim to know things and not know things.

We claim that this is mine or that is yours.

We notice when claims are made about us that feel good and when false claims are made about our persons, families or communities.

What does it mean to claim these spaces and places? And how does it feel? If we don’t claim when we have the opportunity, can something get claimed “away” from us?

Contribute your claims and your thoughts by clicking Get Involved and then  “Make a Claim”.


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.

Recovery Day Celebration at Gallivan


The Recovery Day Celebration at the Gallivan was a fantastic event attended by a dynamic and passionate crowd.

Like so many community events that we have attended with our photo opportunity to “make a claim,” there was a strong message shared by many of the attendees- this time the importance of health, sobriety and loving relationships as things to be claimed.

They did so in an enthusiastic, public way for the benefit of the larger community.

Continue reading

What is a social practice of art making?

Claim-It_PacificIsland_278- aug 1In the words of Randy Kennedy, the social practice of art making “blur(s) the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism, and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art.”

This distinction is an import one for this community art project. The artwork will not only be the resulting public art objects, but the entire conversation created around the theme of claiming it. The Claim-It_PacificIsland_273performance of claiming something, through your participation, becomes attached to the final objects.

It is our hope that Claim it! is genuinely participatory in its approach, meaning that we set up a variety of activities through which people from all over the city – with a geographic focus on West Salt Lake – access the theme and interpret it from their experience.

Join us for the performance, the Claim-It_PacificIsland_317 (1)conversation, and the documentation of claiming what is important to you, right now, right here, in our SLC.


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

Claim it at Poplar Grove Park

We are creating public art pieces for three sites in West Salt Lake. This presents us with challenges and opportunities.

Some of the challenges:

  • How can we work over time with a variety of stakeholders to create pieces that are truly from and of the community?teresa-poplar
  • What will the work look like and how many hands will craft it?
  • How will we make choices between different ideas as we go forward?

The truth is that we don’t know. At least not yet.

But we are crafting the process to get us to that point, one that is complex and broad enough to capture the variety of voices and faces we need to hear from and see. We may not see the artwork just yet, but we see all of the rich storytelling opportunities that working to see it presents.

Last night presented one of these opportunities at the University Neighborhood Partners in the Park event at Poplar Grove. Local residents – with the welcome encouragement of Teresa from UNP – accepted our invitation to Claim It!

Some of the claims made:

  • I want to claim more mercy.
  • I want to claim more advocacy for victims of domestic violence.eaquality- poplar
  • I want to claim more education for kids.
  • I want to claim opportunities for better jobs.
  • I claim my family.
  • I claim my right to live in world where people with different perspectives get to live and work together.

Join us and make your claim this Saturday, August 1st at:

Claim it! at the Library

We are so happy to have been included in the Alt Press Fest activities at the Main Library last weekend. Alternative press looks like many different things as a product, but as a process it is a way to have multiple voices delivered in a variety of media, through non-traditional routes. It is an opportunity for self-publishing and small publishing of perspectives that do not tend to be covered in broad news and traditional publishing. For us it was a perfect fit. Claim-It_Alt-Press- heard as a womanDocumenting our communities claims through conversation and photography. And it was a broad section of the community, our roughly 60 participants represented over 15 different zip codes. Some of their claims:

I claim my dolls.

I claim more Pokemon cards.Claim-It_Alt-Press_133- to learn

I claim that Alliance House is Happiness.

I claim my right to marry.

I claim my strength as a woman.

I claim my right to make bad art.Claim-It_Alt-Press_121- to make art

I want to claim more space for people on foot and people on bikes.

What will your claim be?