Joshua & Heidi Belka: Local Artists Inspired by Joe Hill

Mural by Joshua & Heidi Belka at Ken Sanders Rare Books

Mural by Joshua & Heidi Belka at Ken Sanders Rare Books (2015)

Plan-B Theatre’s world premiere of Debora Threedy’s ONE BIG UNION (opening November 10-20, only 70 tickets remain for the run of the show as of this posting – click here to purchase) celebrates the impact and music of Joe Hill.

Over the past two years, two large-scale public art pieces have come to life in Salt Lake City. This week, we chat with Joshua & Heidi Belka, creators of the Joe Hill mural on Ken Sanders Rare Books.

Tell us a little about yourselves as artists.
As artists we mostly just dabble. We also compose and play / sing for a band called Socialists. By trade we are union stagehands where collectively we are a seamstress, pyrotechnician, carpenter and entertainment riggers.

Joshua & Heidi with Freddie, their “best project so far”

What drew you to Joe Hill?
Our interest in socialist / communist / anarchist ideas and U.S. labor history naturally led us to Joe Hill. As musicians we have used some of Joe’s lyrics. [You’re listening to “Joe Hill” by Socialists right now!]

The original mural

The original mural (2015)

How was the original mural destroyed and how did the new one came to life on Ken Sanders Rare Books?
As members of IATSE [International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees] Local 99, we sought and received permission from the membership at a monthly meeting to do some murals of labor activists on the south side of our union hall. As examples, we provided some portraits of Joe Hill and Emma Goldman that we had done. The only stipulation from the membership was “no hammer and sickle.” We complied and finished the mural in advance of the Joe Hill centennial celebration. The mural included the famous verse from “Workers of the World, Awaken” along with [the statements] “Murdered by the Capitalist Class,” “Fire Your Boss” and “Abolish the Wage System.” This mural obviously didn’t sit well with the right-wing fascist members of our local. The mural was up only up for eight days before the Nationalists under the cloak of night painted a hideous American flag over the mural. The proud fascists never took responsibility but we know who they are. The true labor community put out a call for a labor-friendly wall and Ken Sanders graciously offered his building for the mural that exists right now.

Click here
 for more information on and tickets to the world premiere of Debora Threedy’s ONE BIG UNION, running November 10-20. Coming to this blog October 31: a chat with Mark Hofeling and Christian England about their piece “10,000 Years of Labor in Utah.”

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