Old Story: a Norwegian, a Scotsman, and a German walk into a community center in a tiny rural town. They’re carrying a suitcase that they claim contains treasures from the wider world. In an alternate version they claim the valise contains a time machine that can show the townspeople a glimpse of their own future. The folks in the town say, “No, thanks. We like our Weltanschauung just the way it is, and we see no reason to pay you to upset our cozy contentment.”
“You don’t understand,” says the spokesman for the foreigners: “You don’t have to pay us. We’ve already been paid . . . by some folks that don’t live here. As a matter of fact, we’ve already begun our work. You don’t have to watch, but you can’t stop us from opening the suitcase.”
The image of grown-up citizens being force fed anything is disturbing, and the idea of trying to make free consumers add a little high culture to their diets is doubly painful. After all, who wouldn’t want his or her life enriched at no cost? Yet such cases abound. Whenever Christo and Jeanne-Claude approach a community with plans for one of their famous, and famously popular, art events, like the Running Fence, the Wrapping of the Reichstag, or the Gates in Central Park, even though they always pay every penny of the cost, hire locals to help, and give their materials away when they are done, they invariably face resistance from a segment of the populace that still doesn’t want art in their neighborhood.
Cosmopolitan centers with large populations face far less of this kind of strife. There the consumers of culture are numerous enough to hold their own in the give-and-take of the marketplace. But in a town the similar percentage of locals who want more art, music, theater, and so forth may be only a handful that cannot prevail against local issues like streets, sewers, and schools.
Some places have worked out solutions that may not travel well. In western counties a splendid, well-funded community art center may feature cowboy art leavened with desert landscapes. Religious art is another option, but one where public funding can conflict with local control. One option is to seek a mix of local traditions, contemporary values, and representatives of more widely recognized, albeit outside alternatives. Such a program is the aim of Jared Latimer at the Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, Sanpete County. Latimer took over his role as public art provider to central Utah from two locals—founding director Kathleen Peterson, a popular landscape and figure painter and children’s book illustrator, and Adam Bateman, an installation artist with avant-garde credentials — and has inherited strong connections to all three players: the town, the local artistic community (including nearby Spring City), and the increasingly internationalized art mainstream. It’s his job to try to please all three of these disparate groups with one art program.
Recently, Latimer circulated this chart to “show our commitment to our local community artists and also our commitment to the state of Utah.” It shows that while the Center’s exhibitions have been equally divided between County artists, Utah State artists from outside Sanpete County, and those from out of state, the actual number of artists who have exhibited at the CUAC tilts more towards artists from within Utah. The difference is explained by group shows that usually include a few out-of-state artists mixed in with locals. It had been suggested that too many of CUAC’s exhibits were being devoted to imported art, but these numbers would seem to disprove that, unless the gallery is to be given over exclusively to local art. Other public art institutions, like the Salt Lake Art Center and the UMFA, must have these numbers available. Private organizations, like the BYU Art Museum, might also be encouraged to participate. Perhaps Latimer’s chart can be the opening remark of a statewide conversation on arts funding: one that would create, at the very least, a more accurate picture of the various dimension of Utah State’s vibrant and thriving world of museums, galleries, and studios.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Categories: Public Issues