300 Plates Checks All the Boxes: Amazing Local Art at Rock-bottom Prices and An Opportunity to Throw One of Utah’s Most Beloved Arts Organizations a Lifeline 

The last two months has meant getting more intimate with our at-home surroundings than we ever thought possible, both for better and for worse. (Case in point: My living room’s, 1990s-era oak fireplace surround has become the bane of my existence.) Thankfully, this week there’s an affordable, socially distanced opportunity to infuse much-needed new life to your walls while, at the same time, helping Utah artists and a beloved, local art organization survive this surreal time.

Art Access’s 300 Plates Fundraiser gets underway online at accessart.org on Thursday, May 14. This much-anticipated, annual event began 18 years ago to support Art Access’s programming and features original works created by local artists on 10- by 11-inch masonite plates, drilled and donated by Mackenzie EXHIBIT in Ogden. “Plates from an old printing press were used when 300 Plates began, which is the reason for the size and that the plates are drilled with two holes on one side,” said Kerry Carlson, program director for Art Access. When the decision was made to transform 300 Plates from a live to a virtual some of the artists asked that the two holes—which was how the plates were displayed during the live events—could be omitted. “But we felt that those holes had become a part of what makes the plates distinctive and, so, though clearly we don’t need them to display the plates online, we decided to keep the holes,” Carlson said. 

Art Access was founded in Utah more than 35 years ago to create a community where people with disabilities and other marginalized communities could realize inclusion and creative expression through the arts. Due to funding challenges presented by COVID-19, however, beginning in August, Art Access has been forced to streamline offerings to its Breaking Barriers education and advocacy work, which ensures Utah’s cultural sector is more accessible for people with disabilities, and its Partners Artist Mentorship Program. The success of the 2020 300 Plates Fundraiser is vital in ensuring that these programs, which are not duplicated elsewhere in Utah’s arts community, will go on beyond the pandemic. 

In years past, the event’s 300 completed plates would be displayed in a gallery adjacent to a gala-like celebration. Based on the color of wristband they were randomly given when they arrived at the event, patrons were allowed to enter the gallery on a staggered time schedule during which they could purchase just one plate at a time. Plates were displayed according to price beginning at $85, increasing in $1 increments up to $300 per plate. Art Access staff would hand select several of the best pieces submitted to 300 Plates for inclusion in a separate silent auction, also part of the event.  

This year’s 300 Plates fundraiser will, obviously, run a little differently. On Thursday, May 14, access to the online event will commence in this order: the silent auction and full gallery will open to “Golden wristband” ticketholders ($1,000 for up to five people) at 9 a.m.; $300 for 300 Sponsors’ access (for up to two patrons) begins at 10 a.m.; and individual ticket holders’ ($25 each) and participating artists’ access begins at noon. At 9 a.m. on Friday, May 15 the silent auction ends and the event will open to the public. Patrons can purchase as many plates as they want once they enter the online gallery (versus being limited to just one) and, instead of the 30/70 artist/Art Access split that was employed in the past, Art Access is splitting 2020 300 Plates proceeds with the artists 50/50.

More than 185 Utah artists have submitted pieces for inclusion in 300 Plates, representing a vast array of mediums and styles. This is the third year Laura Sommer, creator of the painted and stitched collage, Persuasive Whist (first image), has participated in 300 Plates. “I like the art community here in Salt Lake City, and it gets me involved in that,” Sommer said. “I have met some great people through doing this event and I also have friends who participate. It’s exciting to see a wide variety of artists/artwork and talents, all together, helping this great cause.”

The scene depicted on first-time 300 Plates artist participant, Eileen Vestal’s, acrylic on masonite plate, titled Crooked Mile (second image) will be familiar to many. “It’s of one of my favorite ski runs at Alta,” Vestal said.

A full preview of all 2020 300 Plates submissions is now open at aavsaut.ejoinme.org/300PlatesPreview2020. You can also glimpse several of this year’s plates on Art Access’s Instagram feed, (@artaccessutah). 

Written by Melissa Fields