Centennial Plaza a huge hit on Saturday nights last summer – now moving to Fridays in 2023Jan 06, 2023 10:24AM ● By Carl Fauver
Mountain Star AirLife helicopter landed in front of the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center last summer during one of several events that drew hundreds of people to Centennial Plaza. (Janice Fields)
It’s been well documented in these pages over the past several years, Salt Lake County and Taylorsville City combined to spend nearly $50 million to transform all those long-vacant acres south of city hall.
If you’ve followed the news, you know the county spent the vast majority of that total on construction of the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center.
Certainly the new state-of-the-art MVPAC is proving versatile. For starters, the Taylorsville Arts Council has made use of it for a number of performances. Last fall, the council also hosted its annual art show there for the first time ever.
MVPAC has also been used to host at least one large professional conference – a purpose for the venue that was never really discussed during its four years of construction.
In short, if you’ve been inside, you know the new arts center is spectacular.
However, having said all that, an argument can be made that, what impacted Taylorsville residents in 2022 even more than the multi-million-dollar MVPAC was what lies outside the facility – namely, lush, inviting grass.
“Starry Nights @ the Plaza was such a great success,” Mayor Kristie Overson said. “We had good turnouts at most of the events. The food trucks were back. The plaza art displays drew lots of people. It was just a wonderful experience to have everything turn out so well.”
Some like to call it the new Taylorsville “front yard,” while others say it’s the city’s “living room.” But technically, all that grass outside the performing arts center is “Centennial Plaza.” The plaza’s “crown jewel” is the $750,000 outdoor amphitheater that serves as a focal point for all the open space. Also, scattered throughout the area for most of last year were six sculptures. Those proved so popular, when it came time to rotate the old pieces out (last August), the city created more places for art.
“Last year when we introduced our Plaza +ART program we had six statues on display,” Overson told the Centennial Plaza audience at the time. “But this year we are more than doubling that number, to 14 statues. We’ve created eight new pedestals and display spaces for this second Plaza +ART season.”
All six of the artists who provided sculptures for display in Centennial Plaza during year one provided new pieces for the current year. They include: Taylorsville resident Dan Toone, his son Josh Toone (Hyrum), Deveren Farley of Lindon, Gary Lee Price out of Arizona, Provo’s Ben Hammond and Doug Adams of Malad, Idaho.
Meantime, the eight artists making their sculpting debuts in the Centennial Plaza collection this year include four from here in the Salt Lake Valley – Nate Brimhall, Dana Kuglin, Rick Prazen and Jeannine Young – along with four more who hail from further away: Myles Howell (Logan), Nate Johansen (Provo), Jason Millward (Logan) and Jim Moore (Wenatchee, Washington).
“This is actually my third different sculpture in Centennial Plaza because my first one last year got broken and I had to replace it with a second piece,” said local sculptor Dan Toone. “This is such a beautiful place to display art. I have been happy to talk this (Plaza +ART program) up with other artists. The city is talking about creating even more places to display art next year – maybe growing it to 20 sculptures. That would be wonderful.”
Prior to their pieces being unveiled that evening, the artists were treated to a “thank you” dinner inside the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center.
“Having all the artists together to talk about their pieces was just wonderful,” Overson said. “The food was great – and the artists were so appreciative. Really, the whole evening was just an amazing experience.”
The art unveiling – on the final Saturday night before Labor Day weekend last year – marked the close of the Starry Nights @ the Plaza season. Activities began with a big launch party in mid-May and ran for more than three months. The only night the city skipped was closing night of Taylorsville Dayzz (June 25).
Following the official close of the Starry Nights season, Centennial Plaza hosted a couple of other events through the fall – or, at least it was supposed to. It turned out Mother Nature was not a fan of the scheduled Halloween candy giveaway on Oct. 22. A heavy downpour forced that event inside city hall. Then, after Thanksgiving, the plaza hosted a holiday tree lighting ceremony.
All in all, a very busy first full year for Centennial Plaza activities – but, with much more to come in year two.
Most of the legwork for the first Starry Nights @ the Plaza fell in the lap of Overson’s Executive Assistant Jen Andrus. She’s the one who coordinated groups like the city’s Public Safety Committee and organizers of the Children’s Entrepreneur Market to give them nights to host their community activities. And she is also the person who convinced musical groups to perform for no pay because it was not in the year one budget.
“It was a lot of work; but I love the space and it was fun to see people enjoying themselves,” Andrus said. “Besides, event planning is something I did and loved for years before moving to Utah. It was nice to be doing it again.”
Before moving to Utah six years ago, Andrus grew up and lived in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania – essentially a suburb of the state capitol, Harrisburg. Years ago, she planned a variety of community events while working for the Pennsylvania state senate.
Last year’s Starry Nights @ the Plaza included five free movie nights, something Andrus hopes to grow to six in 2023. The series also featured live music almost every week – something she promises will be a part of every week this year.
“Jen is amazing,” Overson added. “Besides coordinating all the events, she also discovered some potential grant funding to help cover costs for Starry Nights (in 2023). I believe it was her first time to write a grant request – and she got the money.”
Andrus secured $22,700 from the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement. While not a huge amount, she says the grant will help fund everything from rights to show movies publicly (at $415 per) to possibly installing more pedestals for additional art. Oh, and bands will be paid in year two.
“I’m not sure what the going rate is for music performances – but I know it’s more than nothing,” Andrus quipped. “We’ll figure out a fair price to pay performers this season.”
Andrus expects the Public Safety Committee’s Night Out Against Crime to return to a Starry Nights evening this summer, along with the Children’s Entrepreneur Market. Other groups are expected to seek out exposure during the high-profile nights as well.
Andrus and her committee are also expected to discuss experimenting with a craft or farmers’ market during a few of the Starry Nights.
“After the children’s market, I had several adults approach me about having a similar night where they could sell homemade items,” Andrus said. “We haven’t discussed it much yet; but we will before the new season arrives.”
The biggest change coming in 2023 is a move from Saturday nights to Friday evenings. Andrus says there are several reasons for the change.
“After our season, we met with the food truck people and they told us Friday nights are their most successful evenings,” Andrus said. “We also had a number of people tell us last year they would have come (to a Starry Nights @ the Plaza event) if it had been on Friday night – but they were leaving town on Saturday. So, we decided to make the change. Many of our (city hall) employees have also told me if it was on Friday evening they would buy meals at the food trucks to take home to their families. We’ll see how the change goes this summer.”
Besides all the organized activities city officials have hosted on Centennial Plaza, Overson says the new football field-sized patch of grass and its surrounding sidewalks and picnic tables are proving to be a draw even at much quieter times.
“As I am sitting here talking to you (on the phone, on a weekday afternoon) I am looking out my window at the plaza,” Overson said. “There’s nothing going on – no activities. But I see a woman pushing a baby in a stroller. I see a couple of kids riding through on bikes. I see things like this quite a bit – people discovering and enjoying the space – just what we hoped would happen.”
The mayor closed by saying it’s fun to be in her position now that Centennial Plaza is a reality. But she credits its existence to Taylorsville elected officials who were in place long before she became active in city government.
“Centennial Plaza is a tribute to all those (previous elected officials) who hung in there – who refused to sell off that land when there were many offers to buy it,” Overson concluded. “I appreciate everyone keeping the vision. They dreamed of something good in this space – and now that dream has come true.”