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The performing arts have always enjoyed a strong presence in Utah. We see this with the Utah Symphony, Ballet West, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The visual arts are just as prevalent, but maybe not as visible.
Yet visual artists have a way of banding together and breaking into the local arts scene whether their audience is ready for them or not. Melissa Sullivan, for example, has opened the only gallery specializing in local artwork right in the heart of a city known for little but its summer theatre.
Artisans Art Gallery is located in historic downtown Cedar City, just one block east of Southern Utah University, home of the famed Utah Shakespearean Festival. The gallery space was originally a dental office, but after some retrofitting, tearing a few walls down and installing track lighting, it is now well-suited for exhibiting artwork.
About two years ago, Gerald Sherratt, former mayor of Cedar City expressed a desire for a co-op gallery featuring local art. He turned to Melissa Sullivan to head up this project in conjunction with the city. She had previous experience in not only framing artwork, but creating it herself.
Sullivan was able to rally an enthusiastic group of artists who continued forward with the gallery even though the city ended up backing out when the economy went south.
The economy remains the gallery’s biggest challenge. “Purchasing artwork is definitely a discretionary dollars event,” says Sullivan. “In addition, as a co-op it requires the participating artists to pay a small monthly participation fee.” She is currently applying for grants to help them out so artists won’t have to shoulder much of the cost anymore at which point they can revert to a more standard commission arrangement.
Another obstacle Sullivan faces is the relative isolation of Cedar City. They have a supportive core of local art buyers, but the population is rather small. They enjoy a tremendous tourist influx thanks to the Utah Shakespearean Festival, but they do experience their quiet months.
One thing that hasn’t been difficult at all is finding quality artwork to exhibit. The number of talented artists in the area is substantial and so the only challenge is creating events that will capture the attention of the arts patrons and encourage new ones so she can successfully promote the local art that may be popular in Salt Lake and outside of Utah, but doesn’t always get recognized in Cedar City.
Artisans currently represents 36 artists including Brad Holt,|2| Steve Yates, Susan Harris |3| and Joy Stein. They also offer oils, stained glass, jewelry, carved gourds, handmade journals and much more.
Sullivan hopes to have a more solid gallery stroll up and running by spring. But currently the only participants are Artisans and the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery on the Southern Utah University Campus. She hopes she can rally more businesses to join in, just as she rallied artists to open up the Artisans Gallery two years ago.
This article appeared in the October 2010 edition of 15 Bytes
Laura Durham works for KUED Channel-7 in the Creative Services Department, curating community engagement projects for both PBS and KUED productions that foster trust and value to the communities in Utah. She also produces Contact with Mary Dickson and Contact in the Community — a digital series featuring arts and culture groups in Utah. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums in the visual arts program and later managing communications, branding, marketing, and public value projects for all arts and museums programming. She has served the Utah community in various capacities with her role as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She lives in Salt Lake City, sings with Utah Chamber Artists, and loves to contribute to 15 Bytes as often as time allows.