A guide to public art in Ogden, Utah
The term “public art” typically conjures images of large, abstract sculptures in heavily trafficked parks and plazas. Chicago’s Cloud Gate, affectionately known as “The Bean,” or New York City’s Washington Arch are examples of iconic public art.
While Ogden has a sizable collection of public sculptures in prominent locations, some of the city’s public art gems require a keen eye and a little inside information . . . like this blog, for example . . . to discover.
Let’s start with the high points . . . the obvious pieces of art that need to be checked off any art lover’s list on a trip to Ogden. There are a few pieces around the area that function as landmarks. You’ll hear them brought up as meeting places or anchor points.
If you’re around Ogden on the first Friday of the month, it’s pretty hard to avoid its art scene. The First Friday Art Strollfeatures extended hours at most galleries and special exhibits inside many of Historic 25th Street’s shops and restaurants. During more seasonable months, the First Friday Art Stroll spill onto the streets with activities for kids, busking local musicians, ephemeral and performance art exhibitions and more. During the other 29 or 30 days of the month, there are plenty of places to engage with public art.
The iconic Ogden Arch, located where the Ogden River flows under Washington Blvd., is probably primary among these and is most often used as a point of reference. When directing a newcomer to Slackwater Pub & Pizzeria, or any point north of downtown, you’ll often hear, “It’s by the big, Ogden Arch,” or “Go X number of blocks north of the arch.” But more than being just a welcome sign to the downtown area, this steel grid structure and its neon lights have transcended into the realm of art.
The Ogden Arch was built in 1936. At that point, the lettering on the south side of the sign read "It Pays to Live in Ogden, America's Fastest Growing City." On the north side, it read "We Welcome You to Ogden, Pioneer Days Week, July 24." In 1939, the south side was changed to "Utah's Fastest Growing City." Then, in 1952, it was changed to "Ogden, Home of Weber College." In 1959, the school became a state college and the sign was changed to "Home of Weber State College." In 1992, the sign was moved 30 feet to the north and the wording was changed to "Home of Weber State University.”
Day or night, a quick selfie near the Ogden Arch is the perfect way to start your Instagram Story and let everyone know you’re in Ogden.
A one-block stroll west along the Ogden River Parkway will land you at Ogden’s High Adventure Park. This gathering/play space supports understanding of the regional water cycle, and encourages environmental stewardship. The “River Cycle” sculpture was created as part of a project to restore a degraded urban stretch of the Ogden River. A water play table made from local stone is carved with interconnecting river channels and images of local riparian species. A hand cranked pump allows children to release water into the channels. The metal sculpture atop the “water table” is crowned with metal artwork representing a flock of birds in flight.” The shadow of the birds shifts with the sun’s angle throughout the year, coalescing into a snowflake displayed on a flat, stone slab on the winter solstice – symbolizing the beginning of the annual water cycle in the snowpack of the Wasatch Mountains.
Hand crafted stone benches invite people to relax and enjoy the river. The benches are etched with a map of the Ogden River watershed, and a piece of water wisdom: “All the water that will ever be, is!”
Snowbasin Resort is home to several life-size bronze wildlife sculptures, both inside and outside of their opulent lodges. Each is worth checking out, but we bring this up mostly because at some point, you’re going to hear, “Meet me at the moose.”
In the center of the plaza between Earl’s Lodge and the Grizzly Center, you’re going to find a large gathering of people double checking the text messages on their phones or gazing around trying to locate the party they’re trying to meet. In the middle of that crowd, you’ll find the massive bronze moose and understand why the most uttered phrase during any ski day at Snowbasin is, “Meet me at the moose.”
Now that you know the public works of art that are used to navigate the area, let’s point out a few of Ogden’s gems that you can find just a step or two off the beaten path.
The Ogden Intermodal Transportation Center (our fancy name for where you catch the train and most buses) houses a richness of public art, including bronze installations on the train platform, a suspended indoor sculpture, and a beautiful metalwork installation on the exterior of a reclaimed train car.
Our hope is that your visit to Ogden doesn’t require a visit to any of our courthouses, but we definitely encourage public art lovers to take a stroll through the metal detectors in order to access some incredibly unique installations.
Finally, the higher education institutions in Ogden are also home to dozens of public art installations. Leaning more toward the fine arts side of the spectrum, the campus at Weber State University houses several galleries as well as public art.
More toward the industrial arts side of the spectrum, the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology Center displays some impressive pieces as well.
Of course, much of Ogden’s rise to prominence took place in the early part of the 20th century, so countless buildings contain unique expressions of the art deco influence, and it’s worth keeping your artistic eye focused as you make your way around town as this brief overview doesn’t even scratch the surface of publicly available art around town.