You work somewhere long enough and it starts to seem like home; leaving your desk, your files, and your coworkers feels a little like leaving your bed, your books and your family. After almost 22 years with Utah’s visual arts program, Lila Abersold has decided it’s time to leave her second home at 300 South Rio Grande and join the wonderful world of retirement. Abersold has become so engrained in Utah’s visual arts community it’s hard to imagine it going on without her. She has protected and grown the State Fine Art Collection from a measly $6000 a year budget to $60,000. She doubled the amount of the Visual Arts Fellowship Award, and she has been instrumental and adamant about not only giving visual artists every opportunity she can, but also giving them a wage. She constantly echoes the mantra of the Utah Arts Council’s founder, Alice Merrill Horne, that every artist should be paid for the work they do.
To remember Abersold and say thank you and farewell, here’s an abbreviated version of the profile Sue Martin wrote on her for our April 2006 edition of 15 Bytes:
“We have great artists in Utah,” declares Lila Abersold, a 16-year veteran of the Utah Arts Council’s Visual Arts Program. And she should know — not only is she the curator of the state’s fine arts collection, she also has the opportunity to travel to every corner of the state, meeting and speaking with artists and others in their communities.
Abersold’s passion for the arts goes back a long way. After raising a family, Abersold attended the University of Utah in the 1970s as a “nontraditional student” earning first a BFA in Music History and then an MA in Art History. During the 80s she worked for the Salt Lake Art Center. In 1990, she, Marcia Price and Ruth Lubbers founded Retrospective Inc., which organized retrospective exhibitions of Utah artists including the recently deceased artists Francis Zimbeaux and Lee Deffebach. The project, unfortunately, came to a quick end when she and Lubbers found “gainful employment.” Lubbers went to Art Access and Abersold joined the Utah Arts Council in 1990.
Abersold’s mission at the Arts Council is historic, passed down from Alice Merrill Horne, a Utah legislator who in 1899 established the first state-sponsored arts organization in the United States. Horne declared that the mission of the Arts Council would be “to promote the arts in all its phases.”
The Visual Arts Program managed by Abersold celebrates and promotes all kinds of visual arts – from sculpture and crafts to two-dimensional work. If you’ve been to the Utah Arts Council’s Rio Gallery in the Rio Grande Depot or to the Alice Gallery in the Glendinning Home on South Temple, there is no doubt you’ve seen some of the diverse creative expressions of Utah artists.
During the past year, the Utah Arts Council has been conducting “Listening Tours” of communities throughout the state. The UAC staff interviews artists, legislators and other local leaders, as well as residents, to find out what role the arts play in the community, how they perceive the current state of the arts, and their vision for arts in the future.
Recurring themes in every community include: “We need more exhibit space” and “We want to learn how to be advocates for additional support for the arts – from government and business.” After each Listening Tour, the Utah Arts Council produces a printed report for distribution within the community and to legislators.
Speaking of legislators, Abersold says they hold the key to the future of state support for artists. Each year, during the legislative session, the Utah Arts Council advocates for funding and other legislative provisions that would enable them to do more for Utah artists. But legislators need to hear from constituents (that’s us, folks). “If they don’t hear anything,” says Abersold, “they assume no one is concerned.”
If she could wave a magic wand (i.e., get all the funding she could want), what would she do? “I’ve always wanted a permanent place for the state arts collection…a museum setting with security and acclimatized environment…. I’d also like funding for project grants that would provide seed money for a group of artists to get together and get new projects off the ground.”
Lila Abersold will be succeeded by Visual Arts Coordinator and Rio Gallery Manager, Laura Durham. If you didn’t have a chance to wish Lila well, you just might run into her at a museum, play, or concert. She’s looking forward to focusing more on herself and filling her time with more travel and the things she loves.
Lila’s not the only pillar of our art community moving on to new adventures. Check out this month’s edition of 15 Bytes (out soon, really) for more comings and goings in Utah’s visual arts community.