Story and images by LORNA GAGE
Immersive art has been sweeping the nation, as illustrated by the 2021 award-winning spaces Area 15 in Las Vegas and Prismajic in Denver. Within Salt Lake City, Dreamscapes serves as no better example.
Under the Utah Arts Alliance (UAA), Dreamscapes is Utah’s first permanent environmentally sustainable art exhibition.
After moving locations and rebuilding, Dreamscapes reopened its doors on Feb. 6, 2021, at the Gateway, 111 S. Rio Grande St. It is an immersive art attraction that utilizes a blend of physical and digital art, creating a unique experience for the observer as they wander through the labyrinth.
Suzanne Raia, the manager of Dreamscapes, described the exhibition as an opportunity for artists who were used to working in two-dimensional mediums to pull their work off the canvas. She said the goal was to create something that people could walk through, experience, and transport themselves in.
As visitors weave through the network of curiosities, mushrooms and reimagined woodland creatures, they are transported to the ultimate dreamland.
“I am of the mentality that everyone is an artist,” Raia said. “We all have opportunities to create new experiences, from the clothes we put on our back, to the words that come out of our mouth.”
Raia was connected to Dreamscapes through UAA. She said UAA is a nonprofit arts organization that has been around for 15 years. Its mission is to foster the arts in all forms to create an aware, empowered and connected community.
Dreamscapes was initially supposed to be a three-month pop-up in 2017. Raia jokingly said that it was constructed out of cardboard, hopes and dreams. But she said the installation was such a great model and attracted so many people to the Gateway, that Dreamscapes was able to establish a permanent presence and rebuild in 2021.
Raia said while developing the concept of Dreamscapes, UAA reached out to its network. One of its biggest donors is the Salt Palace Convention Center. Its green initiative coordinator, Nick Zaccheo, saw the considerable waste generated by numerous temporary arts installations. Raia explained that Zaccheo collaborated with the UAA to create a green art exhibit.
Raia said this exhibition has met its sustainability goals by creating a niche way in which it creates art; it accepts as many donations and usable materials as possible.
Not only that, but Raia said the space is able to utilize projection mapping and digital art to make physical pieces come alive. This is a process in which multiple projectors reflect on a surface to enhance an art experience using light and movement over previously static objects.
As Ashley Brown, an assistant manager and creative lead at Dreamscapes, watched patrons filter in and out of the exhibit, she said, “I hope they see the way we take everyday items and turn them into something new. It doesn’t cost a million dollars to make cool art.”
Since 2017, Dreamscapes has been dedicated to diverting material away from the landfill for the purpose of creating new installations. In that time, it has helped the Salt Palace Convention Center divert over 50,000 pounds of event materials from going to a landfill.
It has also been able to reduce its carbon footprint by almost 180,000 pounds of carbon dioxide — which is equivalent to 200,000 car miles coming off Salt Lake City roads.
“We’re trying to save the world through art,” Brown said. “That’s really important to us. Hopefully they get that feeling when they’re leaving.”
While being the first environmentally sustainable art exhibition in Utah, Dreamscapes is constantly changing and creating new, interactive experiences for the observer. Bo Dean, a builder at Dreamscapes and member of UAA, said, “We have an ongoing joke that the space is never really finished.”
Dean added that in the process of reusing and upcycling materials, it’s important to free up areas in the exhibit for new artists.
This wouldn’t be possible without volunteers.
Kaycee Lane is the volunteer coordinator at Dreamscapes. Anyone can get involved through the Dreamscapes website.
Raia said many of the artists started out as volunteers and have created a collaborative atmosphere that inspires creativity.
Furthermore, volunteering leads to other opportunities, connections, and experiences. Raia said Dreamscapes volunteers get the unique opportunity to see and practice the ins and outs of production. This includes stage managing, working with performers, stocking greenrooms, painting, and working with an extensive range of materials.
Volunteers were especially important in November, when people helped pack Dreamscapes to rebuild in a new location in 2022.
Dreamscapes began the process of packing on Nov. 14. Dreamscapes will be moving to an undecided location in 2022 and still needs help unpacking, reimagining and rebuilding the installation after the new year.
Brown, the assistant manager, said the future of Dreamscapes is to reconstruct the installation in a space that allows it to incorporate more immersive elements, to create a bigger network of artists and to work in tandem with the community. Brown invites the public to discover the secrets of the labyrinth as either a patron or as a volunteer. She said, “It’s a running joke that at the center of the dream universe is a candy covered core.”