by Sue Martin
“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.
Along with Abersold, the Visual Arts team includes Laura Durham, Visual Arts Coordinator, and Kathi Bourne, Registrar for the State Fine Arts Collection. There are several ways Abersold and her team promote the arts:
· A yearly fellowship program provides two professional artists $10,000 each and an exhibition of work produced with fellowship support.
· An annual statewide competition and exhibition (this year for photography and crafts) provides a prestigious and well-publicized opportunity for artists.
· Seminars on various topics, from copyright issues to marketing, are held quarterly.
· An Artist Resource Center, in the visual arts offices at the Rio Grande Depot, is free for artists to research professional development resources, competitions, fellowships and other funding opportunities, and access the Internet, copy machines, printers, and video duplication equipment is also available.
· ArtOps, a free quarterly publication listing more than 100 opportunities for arts classes, exhibits, fellowships, etc., is published in print and electronic versions. To submit entries or subscribe, email Laura Durham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
We can help make Abersold’s dream come true by contacting our legislators anytime of the year to let them know that funding for the arts is important to us, their constituents.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.