Why there’s now a giant whale jumping out of a Salt Lake roundabout

Vehicles drive around “Out of the Blue,” a full-size sculpture of a humpback whale in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood, Sunday morning. The sculpture was installed over the weekend. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Don’t be alarmed if you’re traveling on 900 South and come across a 23-foot whale jumping out of the ground toward the sky.

It shouldn’t land on your car.

“Out of the Blue,” the massive whale sculpture designed by the Utah artist Stephen Kesler, was installed within the center of a roundabout located at 900 South and 1100 East on Saturday. In addition to being 23 feet tall, the whale’s body and flippers extend out 40 feet.

The sculpture was commissioned by the Salt Lake City Art Design Board under the approval of Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who was on hand for its installation.

“It’s a great weekend to do some whale watching!” the mayor tweeted Saturday.

So, why a whale? Kesler explained that the design is intentionally out of the ordinary to match the 9th and 9th neighborhood district it’s located in, according to an arts council news release about the sculpture.

“(It) is unexpected and out of the blue. A community where people from all backgrounds, beliefs and ideas migrate and feel a sense of belonging,” he said. “A community that bursts through expectations; commanding respect for nature, others’ ideas and identities.”

The sculpture is his latest animal-themed artwork in Utah. He has previously designed animal sculptures for Hogle Zoo, Living Planet Aquarium and even the restaurant Red Iguana 2, according to his website.

The whale design was influenced by “input” from residents in the area, according to the arts council.

They add that the whale will also change as much as the neighborhood has in recent years. The whale will be an outlet for a “rotating program of murals” on its surface, which the council says will allow “new interpretations of the artwork throughout its lifespan.”

The roundabout itself is relatively new. In 2018, city officials began testing a “pop-up” roundabout to see if it could solve what was a quirky and problematic intersection between 900 South, 1100 East and Gilmer Drive. The city decided on making it permanent a year later.

Funding for a public art piece also began in 2019, according to the arts council. The Art Design Board opened up a process for artists to apply for designs before selecting “Out of the Blue” in May 2021.

“We are so happy to have this amazing piece of public art back in the 9th and 9th area of ​​Salt Lake!” the arts council wrote in a Facebook post.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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