Huggins is the after school digital media arts mentor for Spy Hop
Productions. Her main program is Sending
Messages—“a storytelling podcast created and entirely produced by incarcerated
youth. Gabriella’s nominator said of the
program, “Under Gabriella’s lead Sending Messages has expanded to a vehicle
that hopes to inform current policy reform, improve access to high quality
step-down resources, and progress toward a restorative justice framework.”
to the sending messages program, Gabriella also works with marginalized youth through the multimedia programs SpyHop offers. Gabriella has directed and co-direced two
award winning documentaries, was a featured speaker at TEDx Park City, and has
been heavily involved in Salt Lake County nonprofits. Gabriella is, in the words of her nominator,
“A skilled facilitator and forward thinking advocate, [who] strives to provide
her students with the tools to think critically and the esteem to express
Here is more about our Outstanding Emerging Arts Professional.
When did you fall in
love with the arts?
I’ve always been an avid reader, finger
painting and crafting are some of the most vivid memories I have of childhood,
and I have been dancing consistently since junior high. I am always walking
around with headphones in, listening to podcasts and music, and I spend most of
my weekends on the couch watching movies. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment
when I realized art was important to me, but Spy Hop and my time dancing at
West High School played a major role in shaping the creator within me. My Spy
Hop mentors and dance teacher were excellent examples of what was possible as a
working artist. They were always passionate and encouraging and taught me to
be a critical consumer and creator.
How have you seen the
positive effects of the arts in your life or in the Salt Lake County?
Personally, engaging with the arts has
equipped me to articulate my own perspectives. Every time I see or hear something
from another community, from a person unlike me or a place I am unfamiliar
with, I try to accept what I’m experiencing with an open mind. Art forces me to
think about why I loved a piece, what I learned from a piece, what I hated
about a piece, and what I can create in response. My curiosity, my willingness
to talk to people I disagree with and try to understand, my interest in walks
of life foreign to my own, comes from my exposure to diverse types of art from
What do you imagine
the arts community could look like in Salt Lake?
Salt Lake is a very interesting place
artistically. There are great venues like Diabolical Records, there are
dance performances on a regular basis, and zine and art pop-ups where newer or
freelance artists are creating space for themselves to share their work
locally. We have some great art institutions here as well that are bringing
international and national works to this place. Unfortunately, there seem to be
gaps that exist; who can see art, and whose art is being seen? Much of the
publicly accessible work here, even in smaller galleries, is safe, sanitized,
very palatable. Art should be accessible to many people and sometimes the
easiest way to make that happen is to create uncontroversially. However, I
would love to see art here exist on a broader spectrum of experience and
perspective, especially in our galleries and museums.
What are some steps
for getting there?
I go back to this idea of exchange. Art is
created for conversation and there is so much being created here that the
larger community doesn’t get to see, so much that is missing in our local
conversations. Our established institutions should be highlighting what’s
happening in those blind spots, especially since we live in a place centered
around a sense of community. Our community artists should shape our art
landscape, unapologetically and authentically. It would be great if art that
was commissioned around the city was a way to employ younger or up-and-coming
artists to contribute, from murals to public statues. It’d be incredible if
galleries were more intentional about reaching out to artists working
underground here and inviting them to share their work on a main stage.
How has your work
impacted the Salt Lake community?
The best and most tangible impact I am having
on my community is the quality time spent with these students to create pieces
they can share on a platform others in their community can engage with.
My job is the best because I work in a place where teens show up for a new
programming, skeptical and so aloof, and leave two hours later, smiling and
laughing and thankful and making plans for what they’ll do if they can come
back again. It’s exciting to work with young people who are stoked on a camera
they’ve never used before, or energized by the finished product of a radio play
they edited. I am proud to help some of these students escape the sharper edges
and darker corners of their lives through puppet-film-making and stop motion
animation. The environment Spy Hop provides is one that changes attitudes and
helps us connect person-to-person, mentor-to-student, in a way that builds
trust and encourages positivity, self-reflection, and excitement about the
arts. That’s important in its potential to foster bigger and better things in
young people, to encourage them to imagine what they can do and then attempt to
complete something original. That’s agency, and agency is something we need our
young people to have, to know they have power to do things that enhance and progress
the world they live in.
What energizes you in
your work? What is your purpose?
Working with young people is energizing. Young
people are often misunderstood and written off as uncaring, uninteresting, or
unknowing. I learn things from my students every day, and it gives me a lot of
hope as our global community grows, climate insecurity worsens, and economic
disparities continue to pose challenges. When I was young, I benefited
immensely from having many caring adults around me who set healthy boundaries,
taught me the power of personal responsibility, and encouraged me to pursue the
things I cared about through direct action. Mentorship is not something all
youth benefit from, and I’m lucky to have grown up around creatives who
inspired me to explore myself and the world around me through creative
exchange. Community organizing is a creative endeavor, critical thinking is a
creative endeavor, gaining self-esteem is a creative endeavor. My purpose in
this work is to help students understand their influence and place in the
context of this complicated world, whatever that means to them, to find
innovative solutions to the issues they face personally and the issues they
want to influence in the world.
We are honored to present Gabriella with our second Outstanding Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professional award.
Gabriella was interviewed by Rachel Cook.
Rachel Cook is a Masters Candidate with SUU Arts Administration and a member of the Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professionals advisory committee. She loves art, the mountains, and spends her spare time with her husband.
Learn more about the Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professionals Recognition Program.