Downtown Salt Lake City’s Art Scene Just Got a Little More Diverse 

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited THE BLOCKS, when you do go, prepare to be inspired. Despite the obvious challenges presented by the pandemic, Salt Lake City’s downtown core remains vibrantly alive with visual art, especially now.
One of THE BLOCKS’ newest outdoor art displays is Exhibitions on Main, reproductions of original art by two local artists recently installed within kiosks at 236 and 340 South Main Street. 

A jury made up of a journalist; an art historian, professor and author; an arts administrator; and a working artist considered submissions from 12 different artists for Exhibitions on Main. The pair who were ultimately chosen to display their work within the kiosks for the next three months create in vastly different mediums, but both—purely coincidentally—are women who have recently immigrated to the U.S. And both make art that’s a joyful reminder to appreciate the beauty we encounter every day.  

For as long as she can remember, making art has been Durga Ekambaram’s passion. But, for many years, her career as a content writer and raising her children took precedence over painting and drawing. Then in 2015, Ekambaram’s husband’s job brought her and her family from India to Georgia, and eventually Utah. Without a work visa, Ekambaram found both the space and time to explore her passion. “I’ve always been inclined to go out of my comfort zone and did that with my art by exploring different mediums and, after we moved to Utah, entering art in competitions,” Ekambaram says. Based on how well received her color-saturated images have been, it seems to be a strategy that is working out well for her. Last year, she won second place in the South Jordan Art Council’s chalk art competition and, this year, Ekambaram’s work was selected for display as part of the Daybreak neighborhood’s Art Cube Project. She also won second place in the South Jordan Art Council’s SoJo Plein Air Competition and Resident Art Show and a solo exhibition of her work will hang at the South Jordan City Hall beginning in November. And, of course, five of her pieces, collectively titled, Raptures of India, are now on display at 340 S. Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City as part of Exhibitions on Main. 

“I have a personal connection with each image I created for this exhibition,” says Ekambaram. “I love to express my ethnicity and culture through my art and so do with images that many people may not immediately associate with India.” A vibrant acrylic painting of a Bharatanatyam dancer is among Ekambaram’s Raptures of India pieces. “Bharatanatyam is an ancient dance form native to the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, where I am from,” Ekambaram explains. “Every child who lives in this part of India learns this dance which I’ve, in turn, taught to my children.” Another is a watercolor painting of a long-necked, pear-shaped lute called a Veena, an instrument played by many in India. “I play the Veena and when people come to our home, I’ll often play them a tune,” she says. A third is a pencil sketch of the Mysore Palace, which Ekambaram describes as “one of the most beautiful palaces in India.” The palace is a blend of Gothic and Indian architecture that is lit during the annual Dasara festival Ekambaram’s favorite time of the year to visit. 



Exhibitions on Main’s north kiosk (236 S. Main Street) is occupied by photographer Ecaterina Leonte’s series of delicately serene flower images, titled Lula’s Petals. Leonte, who grew up in Romania, began developing her talent for nature photography while spending several years in Peru. There many of the pictures she took were of the nearby the sea and shore-dwelling animals. And, so it was, when she moved to Salt Lake City in 2017, thousands of miles from any ocean, that she felt a bit lost. “Until I found Red Butte Garden,” she says. There she honed in on photographing insects, plants and birds, the “things that are right in front of us but that most people do not see.” After living in Utah for a couple of years, Leonte began submitting her work to contests and for exhibition consideration. The results were, for her, completely unexpected. In the past year, Leonte was named an International Garden Photographer of the Year finalist and took third place in the Royal Horticulture Society’s annual photo competition. She also landed five local exhibitions—at the Utah Museum of Natural History, the Park City Library, the Adobe Building in Lehi, Red Butte Garden Visitor’s Center and, her latest, Exhibitions on Main.

How Leonte developed the technique for making the colorful floral images that comprise Lula’s Petals is an adept example of how creativity can flourish within even the most challenging circumstances. “When Red Butte Garden closed in the early spring due to the pandemic, it hit me really hard,” Leonte says. “I felt like the momentum I had going with my work was about to end and that my home became this prison.” But then she picked up a prism her sister-in-law, Lula, had given her and slowly, over a period of several months, sussed out how to photograph flowers bathed in the rainbow-hued light she filtered through the prism. “Everyone asks if my rainbow flowers are Photoshopped and I promise you they are not,” she says. “At first I was devastated by what the pandemic took away from me. But then I found that I could use boredom to access certain things in myself and use what I had on hand to come up with something amazing.”

Durga Ekambaram’s Raptures of India painting and drawing exhibit and Ecaterina Leonte’s Lula’s Petals photography exhibit will be on display at 340 S. Main Street and at 236 S. Main Street, respectively, through mid-January, 2021. Submissions for Exhibitions on Main’s spring installment, which will display April to June 2021, are due March 17, 2021.         

 Written by Melissa Fields