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Gary Vlasic, 66: Let’s Make It Happen

Just say yes, we can do this. Father at 54, mentor, dancer, and part of the new Salt Lake City scene that is producing Neon Rodeo, a fresh take on SXSW.  He discusses the power of being in the present moment, mentoring the younger generation, and how art is inseparable from life... 

We are a stack of lived experience and, if we are clever, we continue to build on that stack, exploring new possibilities of what can be. If we look at the world with glasses that show us what we can grow into, rather than what we could lose, we stand a better chance of expanding that life experience stack. The short version of this is: Just Say Yes. Being around Gary, the concept of yes becomes infectious. 

Gary’s superpower is that ability to say yes and then figure out how to make it happen. Within the Salt Lake City creative community, Gary is a legend. He is who people point to as “the guy” if you want to know what is happening here. Being gay, being a dancer, a creative, and also growing up and choosing to stay on living in predominantly Mormon Utah builds a skill set and an attitude of “we can do this.” If Gary can do these things which were totally off the menu when he started them, then we can too. The first step to making something happen, be it a career change, having a child, or anything big, is having the imagination to envision what a break from the past may look like. We may not know exactly how we will get there at first, but we know we will figure it out as long as we stay open to the people and circumstances around us.

You are highly involved in Neon Rodeo, here in Salt Lake City, which is this almost unimaginably fresh, super-cool youth-oriented event. Could you tell us about what that is and what you are doing with them?
The Neon Rodeo project was an absolute success as an evening that centered on exploring House Music and the history of House Music. I believe that the potential of the Neon Rodeo will be as big as SXSW with careful planning. I must admit that the growing expansion of this concept and our ability to merge into the process in a deeper way has been thrilling. The team of creatives that sit at the table, which includes many students, is the best part of being involved. A truly talented and interesting group that are on the forefront of all expansive and creative input into the SLC growth. It has a lot of opportunity to link resources and ideas with younger designers and experiential designers. I have 1000 crushes a day with all those involved.

What are your feelings about mentoring younger people? What do people our age need to understand?
It seems that mentoring young students and creatives is a natural process for a designer of my age. It is important to have the opportunity to offer resources, opportunities and share ideas with students and young designers. It also fuels a deeper desire in me to expand my work and vision.  I have had the opportunity every semester to sit in on student projects and critique and advise. The mentoring process is so fulfilling and the student energy and talent always inspires me. I always learn so much in the process.

I was invited into the Design Department at the University of Utah to mentor and advise students. It is their design world now and I want to offer any amount of support to be good designers and thinkers in the design arena. The reinvention of the experimental design world is of utmost importance and filled with so much opportunity. 

“Quite literally, everything that I am good at is the fleeting experience, and rooted in the ephemeral process”

“I’m so late, I’m early.” Could you tell me more about this?
I have considered myself a late bloomer. My path and journey has been based upon an ephemeral approach. My process as a dancer and performer in my early career has been at the core of how I place myself in the world and how I problem solve. My career has been filled with embracing the ephemeral process. The immediate. The moment.

I learned this process from the life of a dancer and as a choreographer. Quite literally, everything that I am good at is the fleeting experience, and rooted in the ephemeral process. It is a constant reminder of being in the moment. It also can pose challenges in a world that is actually fearful of the ephemeral and the idea that there is only this present moment.

Years of training and years of performing, you find that you have only moments that allow you to express your process. Months of rehearsals equate to a one-night or two-night run to perform that work and then it is released. I love the honesty of this process.

In that process is a real magic. Those fleeting nights can reveal all of your process and the surprise of a deep connection to the work and the surprise of giving over to letting the work come through you…hopefully in a deep and authentic way.

I think this process informs my life approach. My settling into a life has revealed having a child at the age of 54 … The greatest surprise of my life and the biggest leap in my adult experience. Timing is everything. It came late for me… It also brought to my life a beautiful connection to my boy and brought a depth of love that takes my breath away.

Becoming a Father at 54

You have a son with a female couple who is now 12. What is your relationship with him and the moms like?
I had an opportunity at age 54 to be the donor to a female couple in NYC.

I was going through a midlife crisis at the time and this opportunity came at the right moment in my life. It was the perfect window that appeared.

Timing is everything. I was seeking a deeper love experience.

What have you learned from your 12-year-old?
I have a son named Skye and I have an active part in his life for the past 12 years. I have always been filled with gratitude for the inclusiveness of my involvement and opportunity to be a father and a friend to my boy.

I felt inspired to have this boy in my life. It really felt as if I was waiting for him for 54 years. My best friend appeared late in life again: “I am so late, I am early…”

You can’t help but find your child as a reflection of yourself.

His unconditional love and love of me has slayed me on many occasions through many periods of his childhood. The love that emanates from the child is unbearable at times. It made me question my worthiness of such love. It is that pure and beautiful. It has brought me to tears.

I feel as if he may be my greatest effort ever.

“I was sure that if I didn’t free myself to connect to my gay identity, my work and creative life would suffer greatly”

What was it like growing up Catholic and gay in a very Mormon town?
Growing up in a LDS environment had challenges. As a child, all your friends were Mormon and you learned to put up with the beliefs to be with your friends. I learned in time that I was free of repression, guilt and shame associated with the dominant religions. I was raised with no religious background or theology. As a family, we had dipped into the Catholic ritual as my grandparents were Catholic and I had a year of Catholic high school.

My gay identity was also late blooming. I had a very fluid and experimental approach to my early sexuality. I was able to float between the straight world and the gay world for many years. I was married to a woman for many years and had a significant relationship with her, though I realized late into the relationship that I needed a broader way to express my sexual identity.

I was sure that if I didn’t free myself to connect to my gay identity, my work and creative life would suffer greatly. I had the capacity to imagine more for myself.

You are renowned for your large production events. How do you deal with the pressure that must come up as you approach the big day?
I learned in the process of event production that no matter how well you plan an event, shit happens… The proof of a good event is to go with the punches, and let the event tell you what needs to happen. Sometimes the mistakes or last minute changes lead you to better solutions and then the real magic can happen. 

Post pandemic, what are people wanting in an event?
Post pandemic events have been tougher to negotiate. The hunger to gather and the backlog of older events that were shelved compiled with new projects added a sense of urgency and chaos to what is already a chaotic industry. Lack of manpower from my vendors has added a tension to the event world. It seems that the overall need to gather as post pandemic reactions has been intense and fraught with not enough labor support.

From Event Production to Interior Design

What are your ambitions for your work looking forward?
My ambitions in my work have changed a lot since we weathered the pandemic. My event world disappeared over night and I had a lean and tense 2 years of juggling several balls in the air while at the same time rebuilding a new business and the opportunity to re-evaluate where I was in my company. I questioned a lot of my process and needed to make big shifts and release layers that weren’t serving me any longer. The pandemic magnified all this.

My design world has been moving into hospitality interior design for restaurants, cafes, and lounges. It has been a surprise and somewhat effortless shift and I am thrilled to have a few projects underway and under my belt. I can see this arena bringing a fresh new approach to these final two decades ahead for myself.

Post Office Place in Salt Lake City, UT

Again it utilizes all resources that I have built into my production studio; it is simply a slower process and utilizes decisions of permanence and materiality that you don’t usually use in the pop-up design world. That pop-up / event world moves fast and disappears as quickly as it goes up.

My process of being in the art studio full time was invigorated by the silver lining of the pandemic. I was able to do several bodies of work and be in the studio all day for almost 2 years… It was thrilling and has changed my current outlook and direction for my artwork and my art career. I sense an urgency of time and I have so much to say and so many unresolved projects to create and build. I am restructuring my need for increased art sales and grants to also finding new representation to support my practice.

One of the most exciting projects is a 30-year reunion with my old dance company co- directors in 2024. We are negotiating on the site and it will have a balance of sculpture, design elements and my artwork that will infuse into the full performance experience.

It is a performance that focuses upon transformation and reflection and includes a community of friends, live music, dancers, artists, poets, and models who interact with be audience through movement and create a ghostly sense of passivity and voyeurism.

“There is no separation between art making and the whole of life”

What does the Venn diagram of dance, hospitality and art look like for you?
The Venn diagram of infusing dance, hospitality and art is as follows :

My manifesto:
Experimenting with one’s life is the most fundamental medium. Being an artist is not what just happens in the studio. There is no separation between art making and the whole of life. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them. The generosity and gestures for your life. The size of the world you imagine for yourself and others.

Your ability to influence the things you believe in. You obsessions. Your vulnerabilities. Your failed attempts.

More than any other vocation, being an artist always means starting from nothing and trusting the blindspots of the unknown. It is a fragile process of teaching oneself to work alone and hone creative obsessions to make a vision come to life. Starting from nothing and trusting the process and knowing that the process includes failing over and over again regardless of the successes that many come as well.

Playlists

What are some of your basic tracks you have been listening to?
Basic soundtracks and soundscapes for my world: My choreographic process and performances all begin from soundscapes and soundtracks. It is the first markings of a performance or performance outline. The music guides the visuals and the movement / storytelling / and performance structure.

My playlists include:
–  Moses Sumney
–  Young Fathers
–  Perfume Genius
–  Movie Soundtracks : Hans Zimmer / Max Richter / Jonny Greenwood / Mica Levi / David Lynch
–  D’Angelo
–  Lauryn Hill
–  Jill Scott
–  Mozart – 5th Symphony
–  Beethoven
–  Wagner
–  Philip Miller
–  Arvo Pärt

Favs

Favorite guilty-pleasure streaming TV shows?
During the pandemic I couldn’t bear the thousands of channels I had to watch. The movies all looked the same to me. With the rare exception of a TV series or movies I list below, I spent large portions of time watching old black and white silent movies. I loved the cinematic black and white/ the silver screen.

I was moved by all things Buster Keaton. His comedic brilliance and deadpan face really speaks to me. So much so, that I am working on a new body of artwork based upon Keaton as a character and as a visual study.

Recent TV guilty pleasures / series and movies:
Lars von Trier: Melancholia / Dancer in the Dark / Antichrist
Dune and Bladerunner 2049
Under the Banner of Heaven – Hulu
Better Things – Hulu
Succession – HBO
Fleabag- Hulu

What are your three non-negotiables in life?
1- I only work with nice people.
2- Giving myself permission to dream big and to do big.
3- Acts of kindness.

What are the three books that have made the most impact on you?
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Damn Good Advice by George Lois

What are your three most visited websites?
IGNANT.com for art, design, photography, architecture, travel
NOWNESS.com for global arts, fashion, design, music, food
BlueMountain.School which is headquartered in London’s East End. Blue Mountain School is internationally recognized for housing an archive of one-of-a-kind commissioned work including ceramics, furniture, and garments available for purchase, as well as a program of exhibitions, residencies, and projects spread over six floors. Both a progressive vision and a physical place of contemplation, Blue Mountain School continues to evolve based on the enduring influence of all those involved. Various friends, designers, and leading practitioners within their field are part of an ongoing collaboration, including Valentin Loellmann, Steve Harrison, Tyler Hays, and 6a architects.

Any parting advice for our readers?
“I yam what I yam, and dat’s all I yam, I’m Popeye the sailor man.”

“Be true to yourself and tell your own story and you will be interesting.”

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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