How the State of Utah is Helping Art Thrive  

No doubt, resilient is an apt descriptor for the United States’ oldest state-funded arts council—the Utah Division of Arts & Museums (which was founded in 1899, just three years after Utah became a state). But it’s also true that 2020 presented what were likely some of the most difficult challenges ever faced by this 122-year-old institution. First was, of course, the pandemic which closed the UDA&M’s offices and gallery spaces. And then came the 5.7 magnitude earthquake that damaged the organization’s gallery space in the Rio Grande Depot to such an extent that even now, nine months after the quake, staff are still unsure when it will be safe to return to the building. But in the same spirit that has kept arts thriving in Utah for more than a century, the UDA&M staff quickly pivoted, moving much of its vital arts programming online, as well as creating a slew of resources for educators, artists and the community at large to help ensure the arts continue to thrive.

Likely one of the UDA&M’s most enduring efforts is its Statewide Annual Exhibition. Launched the same year the UDA&M was formed, the theme of this annual show of Utah-made art rotates between Painting & Sculpture, Mixed Media & Works on Paper, and Craft, Photography, Video & Digital works. In the past, two out-of-state artists were invited to travel to Utah to jury submissions. The resulting exhibition was then displayed in the Rio Grande Gallery. Because of COVID-19, however, almost every aspect of the 2020 Statewide Annual was executed virtually.  

Last fall, despite the pandemic—or perhaps because of the space to create provided by it—nearly 300 artists from every corner of the state submitted photographs of 500 total pieces for consideration within the exhibition’s 2020 theme, painting and sculpture. The exhibition’s two jurors, both from Chicago, Illinois—Edra Soto, an interdisciplinary artist, educator, curator and co-director of the outdoor project space THE FRANKLIN; and Pooja Pittie, a full-time artist whose work has been displayed at Art Miami, EXPO Chicago and The Union League Club of Chicago—then began the difficult task of curating the exhibition virtually. Through two rounds of jurying, Soto and Pooja whittled the exhibition submissions to 30 pieces. “It was delightful to navigate the diversity of mediums and stylistic approaches as much as the conceptual and activist-minded approaches in tandem with our current environment,” said Soto.

Best in Show was awarded to Andrew Alba’s sculpture, WORKED, a piece made from lumber, drywall, plaster, oil paint and reclaimed clothing. Part of a larger movable installation that appeared at various Salt Lake City locations through 2020, WORKED is meant to be a commentary on the notion of non-essential versus essential workers in the COVID-19 era. Alba was an artist-in-residence here in Salt Lake City at UMOCA and Modern West Fine Art and has exhibited his work elsewhere in Utah and throughout Pacific Northwest.

One of the exhibit’s six Juror Awards went to Salt Lake City-based artist and art teacher Lis Pardoe for her oil on aluminum, The Space Between. According to her artist’s statement, Pardoe’s intent as an artist is to “tell stories about connection—to our emotions, each other and our environment.” This sentiment apparently rang true for Pittie who wrote, “The Space Between gave me an insight into their mind as they tackled themes related to the global pandemic.” 

The 2020 exhibit’s People’s Choice Award—a category that debuted at the 2019 Statewide Annual—went to Eric Fairclough’s The Benefits of Hindsight, acrylic, ink and aerosol on wood. “I have always been captivated by geometric patterns,” Fairclough’s artist statement reads. “I see them everywhere I go, from tile floors, to architecture, and even in nature. The precision that is required to create a successful and intriguing pattern has always fascinated me.”

The Statewide Annual typically is on display (both in person at the Rio Grande Gallery and online) until mid-January. This year however, the exhibit will remain online until at least the middle of 2021. “I feel that keeping this exhibition available to people during this period is important to both the artists and people hungry for art,” said Nancy Rivera, UDA&M visual arts program manager. To view the entire 2020 Statewide Annual catalog, click here

Another upcoming opportunity for Utah artists, courtesy of the UDA&M, is the Visual Arts Fellowship. Through this fellowship, two Utah resident, visual artists, practicing in a variety of media—painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, sculpture, craft and new genres—will be awarded $5,000 each in unrestricted funds to create their work and encourage their careers. Applications for this fellowship will be accepted January 25 to February 26, 2021.

For more information about these and other Utah Division of Arts & Museums programs, click here.    

Written by Melissa Fields