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Sugar House Journal

The Fringe Society

Aug 14, 2015 11h23 ● By Bryan Scott


An outer edge; margin; periphery … 


Art isn’t meant to be exclusive; its purpose, importance and merit shouldn’t be judged by a panel of ‘informed’ authorities that either allow or disallow what is distributed and shared with the public eye. But, it happens due to the nature of currency’s gravity. Invariably, art becomes the propaganda of the few. And when that happens, the inherent purpose — the true value of its objective direction — gets lost.

… Fringe was born as an answer to this mainstream problem: exclusivity and conservatism.

So what is Fringe?

The first Fringe festival – what is now the world’s largest arts festival (the 2014 event spanned 25 days and featured over 3,193 shows from 51 countries in 299 venues) – started in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland as an alternative to the Edinburgh International festival. This first incarnation was a juried festival, picking and choosing who and what were to be showcased based on the arbitrary tastes of a few, whereas The Fringe is not juried, allowing any artist to participate, often using a lottery system to choose who gets to participate. 

The Fringe showcases experimental works that generally aren’t invited to more conservative art festivals. Even though, since that first show in 1947, the two festivals have ironically combined, The Fringe has remained as a spotlight and champion for the more radical, innovative and avant-garde.

In 1992 The Fringe festival made its way across the pond, landing in Orlando, Fl. Since then, the festival has experienced a proliferation; currently, there are more Fringe festivals in the United States than on any other continent. 

Twenty-two years after the Orlando festival, The Fringe has finally dropped anchor in the Utah valley, and it couldn’t have docked in a better Salt Lake City neighborhood: Sugar House. 

“From the get go we hoped this could happen in Sugar House,” Michael Vought, who heads the theatre department at Westminster College and is one of the founding members of Salt Lake City Fringe, said. “This community loves art and needs a festival like this.” 

Salt Lake City probably doesn’t jump to the front of the list when you think about which cities are most populated by creative types. Most likely you would cite places such as New York and San Francisco. Why not? Everybody does … but you’d be wrong.   

A recent study by the New-York based personal finance technology company, SmartAsset, showed after analyzing the cost of living in 176 major U.S. cities against the number of Creatives, that Salt Lake City came in second, the first being New Orleans. 

It’s unfitting that Sugar House – arguably the most artistic city in the Beehive state – doesn’t have anything resembling a collective art space. The hope is to change that, to actualize that which exists already in the cultural subconscious of the residents.  

With The Fringe festival spanning four days with 200 shows, adequate space was a concern. Not only that, the space itself is indicative of art: an artist’s surroundings heightens the effect for both performer and viewer.

“Michael [Vought] had been to other Fringes and is really in love with the idea of bringing that into Sugar House,” Dannielle Moriondo, Salt Lake Fringe’s communications director, said. “He looked into a couple places and he really liked this one, especially because it’s at the heart of Sugar House.”

The place that Moriondo is talking about is the old, three-story D.I. (Deseret Industries) building on 2227 S. Highland Drive. The plot of land on which the building sits has since been made into a sort of temporary gathering spot, the Sugar House Plaza, but even so, the building itself has stayed vacant. Until now.

Moriondo explains that through working with the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council, they were given the building, but with conditions. “The air conditioning didn’t work, so Michael actually learned how to do commercial air conditioning,” she said; Vought took it upon himself to fix such regulatory requirements at his own expense. “But of course, we had sponsors that helped us pay for that stuff too.”

With this being Salt Lake Fringe’s inaugural year, their goal, really, is to just spread the word: to implant the idea of what Fringe means and embodies. But, Moriondo says, the long term goal would be to garner enough interest to be able to acquire the building, use it for future Fringe festivals, and ideally, turn the “Fringe Factory” into an art space. 

“Maybe have a dance studio on one floor, a theatre on another … because Sugar House is growing. We have a lot of shopping, movie theatres, apartments, but we don’t really have an art space,” Moriondo said. “We really want to show what the artistic potential this building has.”

Each artist will have their own “booth” to do what they want. 

Fringe is focused on the performance arts, whether that is theatre, dance, music, aerial arts, puppetry, magic or spoken word. The only thing that each will have in common is they are all sure to be unique and original. 

Performances are unrestricted and uncensored, riding the rails between the provocative to the innocent.

“Sugar House has been somewhat of a sleeper,” Vought said. “This area could be so much more than it is. Westminster has always viewed it as a potential college town kind of space, but it never really became that. But lately, with all the new developments: the new apartments, the new revitalization, all the new excitement surrounding food trucks … the farmers market, it seems to really be coming alive.