Art Professional Spotlight | Visual Arts

A New Chapter: The SL Art Center’s Search for a Director

This month’s Art Professional Profile is about an absence rather than a presence; about a possibility rather than the actuality. In October of 2007, after over ten years as its Director, Ric Collier resigned from the Salt Lake Art Center. The search for his replacement provides the Board and staff of the Art Center, as well as the community they serve, a chance to assess the mission of the SLAC and discuss the nature of the person who should guide it from this point forward.

Collier, who joined SLAC in August 1996, was the longest-tenured Director in its history. Longtime friend and colleague, Jim Edwards, the Art Center’s Curator of Exhibitions, also left last year. Their departures mean that the staff at SLAC is relatively new. Though Program Director Roni Thomas has been there for a long time, Leslie Peterson, formerly the Assistant Director and currently the Interim Director, and Jay Heuman, who took over as Curator of Exhibitions, have both been with SLAC for a little over two years.Annie Kennedy, a local artist, was hired as Curator of Education earlier this year. Adam Price, who is heading up the Search Committee for a new director, has been on the board less than a year. They all recognize that this period of transition is an important one and share excitement about the possibilities the future holds.

During what we might call the “Collier era,” SLAC went through significant changes. Staff and board members all agree that Collier left the Art Center on sound financial footing, with a growing national reputation and a history of exceptional exhibitions. The past decade has been marked by some discontent in the local community, however. Visitors have noted that the building is rarely overflowing with traffic; and some local artists have felt ignored by the Center. At the news of Collier’s departure, Brad Slaugh, a local artist and owner of Poor Yorick Studios, sent an open letter to the staff at SLAC asking to see if the community would have a chance to express their views on a new director. “I for one would like to see someone brought in who is considerably more supportive of the local art scene,” he wrote, “as there are a lot of interesting Utah artists who have been almost completely neglected by the Art Center for years. The near constant stream of artists from elsewhere showing us slack-jawed yokels how it is strikes some of us as a bit patronizing, and I for one would like to see the Art Center mix it up a bit more.”

Views like these, as well as those who wish to take advantage of the foundation laid down by Collier, give import to the search for a new director. In addition to Salt Lake Art Center board members, the Search Committee includes professionals from the local community: Susan Beck, a local artist and educator, Mike McGlothlen, an artist pursuing an MFA at the University of Utah, and Campbell Gray, Director of the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. “To the extent that mere presence can have an impact, we’re off to a good start,” says Price. The Committee plans to create a way to receive community input about the new director, though the format has yet to be established.

Price recognizes that one of the Art Center’s most pressing missions is to improve its dialogue with the community. “It’s not enough to just put on shows, but to go out to people and convince them [the shows are] relative to them,” he says. Price joined the board in the Spring of 2007, after launching the 337 project, which, at Collier’s direction, the Art Center helped sponsor. Price’s involvement in the 337 project and work with local artists encourages him that any divide between the Art Center and the local community can be bridged. He notes that prior to his resignation even Collier was changing his attitude about local artists. He scheduled the entire Art Center for an exhibition involving 337 artists for June 2008.

Jay Heuman, Adam Price, and Leslie Peterson discuss the search for a new director, outside the Salt Lake Art Center

Jay Heuman, Adam Price, and Leslie Peterson discuss the search for a new director, outside the Salt Lake Art Center

The search for a new director began mid January, and Price says in the first week or two the Center had already received about fifteen applications. The Search Committee has not set a closing date, and Price says they will keep looking until they find the right person. “More important to choose right than to choose quickly,” he says.

There is no pressing need for a decision. Heuman, formerly Curator of Education but now in charge of exhibitions, say the Art Center’s exhibits are already scheduled out more than a year. And Peterson is acting as the Interim Director. Both are excited about the Art Center’s future. Though they recognize the importance of a personality at the helm of an organization like theirs, they say the Art Center’s Mission Statement — “to encourage contemporary visual artists and art which challenge and educate public perceptions of civil, social and aesthetic issues affecting society” –provides them with a strong guide.

They see their most pressing role as communicating that mission to the public. Heuman feels his background in education (both at the Art Center and previously at Utah State University) will inform his curatorial process. “The Art Center is not taking a position,” Jay says about the shows they put on. “It allows the public to see and make their decision.” Peterson recognizes that their role is to challenge the viewer, but she believes that is done in a very personal framework. The art should be such that it is an opportunity “for us as individuals to respond to it.”

Heuman is eager to become more familiar with artists in the community. In March, 15 Bytes will launch a new feature by Heuman, Aristic Temperaments, in which he poses the same question to a number of local artists and compiles their answers. Price is in a unique position to stay in contact with local artists. Since the 337 project, he has continued to keep email contact with the 150 plus artists involved in the project, letting them know of exhibitions by their peers and other opportunities. Peterson says the staff’s ideas for the Art Center are limitless, their possibilities constrained only by money and human resources. A pivotal addition to those resources will be the new director.

If you would like to comment on the Art Center, its future and its search for a director, you can do so by responding to this post on our blog. Or you can direct your suggestions/comments directly to the Art Center by emailing Leslie Peterson.

This article is from the February 2008 Edition of 15 Bytes

The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.

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