Public Issues | Visual Arts

Is The Utah Arts Council Being Evicted?

The Utah Arts Council is facing two great losses in its immediate future. One is certain. Another is still only a possibility, but one which has stirred a lot of anxiety in the arts community. Bonnie Stephens will be retiring as Director of the Utah Arts Council this month and her absence will certainly be felt. The Arts Council is not only losing its director, however. It may also be losing its home.

The Arts Council has been told by state officials that they may be leaving the Glendinning Mansion, the Council’s home for over twenty-five years. The possibility has already created a great deal of anxiety for the Council and the arts community it serves. The Council finds itself in a difficult situation — trying to do its best to serve its constituency and to fulfill its mission, while answering to its immediate bosses, the state appointed officials who have threatened the move.

The Utah Arts Council’s dilemma came about because of a project that was only projected but never realized. Originally the directors of the Utah Arts Council, the State History department and the State Archives had formulated a plan for a project to consolidate the three departments in a joint space in the Rio building on the west side of town. The principal objective of the partnership was to create a place, the Utah Cultural Center Museum of Utah, where artifacts could be collected and exhibits displayed that would tell the Utah story.

The Utah Arts Council was interested in the possibility because the proposed exhibition space would provide a great location to display the state’s fabulous art collection, most of which remains in storage. The original proposed plan dissolved, however, in a controversy which had the State History director and director of the State Archives resign.

Members of the Arts Council have been told by government officials that despite the fact that the Utah Cultural Center Museum of Utah will not be built, the staff of the Utah Arts Council may be relocated to the Rio Grande Building. They will be moving to offices on the second floor with no exhibition space. And they will be leaving a wonderful building which currently houses the Council and which serves as an exhibition space. It is a building the Council (and the arts community it serves) helped to create.

In the mid ’70s the Glendinning home was a boarded up, rundown building with a billboard proclaiming “Prime Property for Downtown Condos” with a six story brown square building pictured. Ruth Draper, then director of the Division of Fine Arts (now known as the Utah Arts Council), was appalled at the idea of such an unattractive structure towering above the Governor’s home, located next door. The Heritage Foundation was eager to save the home, which belonged to the first mayor of Salt Lake City, and persuaded the State Building Board to have the property appraised. The land was valued at being worth the asking price, though the home was valued as negligible.

The State Legislature approved the purchase of the property for the Division of Fine Arts, then housed in the small carriage house behind the governor’s mansion. With the help of state funds and the Arts Council’s efforts, the home was restored sufficiently to be listed as a Utah Historic Landmark, and became the home of the Utah Arts Council. It has been that home for over twenty-five years.

The Glendinning home, which costs $25,000 a year to maintain, now houses the staff of the Utah Arts Council, has a gallery for exhibits; is a gathering place for artists, non-artists and arts organization; and a place where those interested in the arts can meet and learn about the programs the Arts Council offers to the community.

Ruth Draper says that “the proximity to the executive residence was an important consideration when the Legislature purchased the home and adjoining land for the Arts Council. Legislators believed there was value in having the arts, with their grace and beauty, located next door to the Governor.”

The building and the Council have provided grace and beauty to the area and served the community for over twenty-five years. The Council is reluctant to move to the Rio building, because as Terrie Buhler, assistant director for the Utah Arts Council, says, “It doesn’t serve us or our constituency to move down there.” Nothing is gained for the Council or the arts community, and in the process they lose a wonderful office and exhibition space.
Tracie Cayford, media relations director for the Department of Community and Economic Development (which oversees the operations of the Arts Council) says that despite rumors “there are no plans to move the Arts Council” from the Glendinning home. She says that the only discussion about a move has been in relation to the Utah Cultural Center, but that their office has not discussed a move in the immediate future — at least eighteen months to two years. Furthermore, she states that there are no tenants lined up to use the building.

Cayford points out, however, that the ultimate decision is not theirs. That rests in the hands of Joe Jenkins, director of Facilities Construciton and Management, whose office is always looking for “effective use of state offices.” Cayford points out that even her office could be moved tomorrow if Jenkins’ office determined it would be for the best. We have been unable to get a comment from Jenkins.

The fate of the location of the Utah Arts Council is of vital importance to the visual arts community. Whatever your opinion on the fate of the building and the Council, we urge you to make your voice heard. Below are some of the individuals who may be contacted regarding the Glendinning home and the Utah Arts Council. In addition make sure to contact your elected representatives to let your voice be heard. In addition, we will be publishing in this space any comments on the issue. Send your comments to artistsofutah@netzero.net

Please call Bonnie Stephens at 236-7555 if you would like to know more about the issue.

You may also want to contact:
David Harmer (Department of Community and Economic Development, 324 South State Street, 5th Floor, SLC, UT 84111)
Joe Jenkins (Facilities Construciton and Management, 4110 State Office Building, SLC, UT 84114)
Rich McKeown (Office of the Governor, 210 State Capitol, SLC, UT 84114).

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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