The The Nine Rails Creative District is the area between Grant and Madison avenues from 24th to 26th streets that supports and encourages creatives and artists to live and work in Ogden.
Exactly when the idea for an arts district in Ogden first started, and by whom, is hard to pin down, but it started long before city council meetings and master plans; it seems to have been born in concert among community leaders and organizations who understood the aesthetic, economic and cultural value that art brings to a community.
“There has never been an arts district in America that has failed,” said Thaine Fischer, who started the nonprofit Ogden First (now Ogden Contemporary Arts) that carried with it the vision of an arts district in Ogden.
Fischer said initial meetings and conversations about creating an art district began among community members about a decade ago. There was talk about an “art mile” starting at Union Station up 25th Street, that would have physical markers within a mile-long art district.
According to Fischer, arts advocate Jake McIntyre talked to Weber County and the City Council about the importance of arts districts and asked Fischer to put a mural on the Peery’s Apartments wall, which Weber County funded and became the first visual marker for what became the Nine Rails Creative District.
Sara Meess, division manager for the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, said the city’s involvement with the new district started in 2015 with grant funding from National Endowment for the Arts to create a master plan, which was finalized in 2018.
The Nine Rails Creative District is the result of a collaborative effort among city and community leaders and organizations — IO LandArch, Union Creative Agency, Weber State University, Ogden First (now OCA), Ogden Downtown Alliance and a steering committee with 10 community members — working together to create a more vibrant connection between downtown and east-central Ogden.
They wanted to “bring more art out into the public realm where it’s part of the daily experience instead of having to seek it out,” Meess said. “The district is a part of the city where we’re trying to create an environment for creative activity and artistic expression to flourish.”
Part of that plan was to bring an arts plaza to the new district; the Dumke Arts Plaza, scheduled for completion in October, will be the newest addition for the Nine Rails Creative District visible from 25th Street.
“I think it’s been really exciting to see what business owners, property owners and OCA have been able to do in the district,” Meess said. She named some of the first businesses — The Monarch, Argo House, Cuppa — that had a significant impact in attracting more creative businesses to the district.
“Creative” is a term used broadly to describe the businesses the city wants to draw to the area, Meess said. “Not just fine arts, like sculptors or painters, but we’re also thinking about people that build furniture or do industrial design.”
The catalysts for the physical manifestation of the district were Jake McIntyre’s mural on the Peery Apartments wall and OCA’s PLATFORMS, an outdoor venue for visual and performing arts on the previously vacant corner of 25th and Adams, according to Fischer. Then came the Argo House, Imagine Jefferson and The Monarch.
The new Dumke Arts Plaza, located on the southwest corner of 25th Street and Ogden Avenue, will further solidify the Nine Rails Creative District as the creative epicenter of Northern Utah.
The plaza will be home to arts events that are always public, from intimate concerts and live performances to film screenings and art installations. It will also bring Weber State University downtown to the creative district through its programming at the plaza, something that was important to the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation, which is contributing more than $2 million for plaza construction and an additional $2 million for arts programming at the plaza through an endowment to Weber State.
“There’s a vibe about university towns that you can’t buy,” said Fischer, owner of The Monarch, which is also at the center of the creative district. Universities have a positive impact on cities, he said. And bringing WSU together with a thriving creative district can only mean even better things to come for Ogden.