On the Spot

Salt Lake City’s Laura Durham

For many years, Laura Durham, then director for the visual arts program at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, was editor for our “On the Spot” feature — a series of short questions and answers directed towards art professionals in our community as a way to get to know them better. 

Around 2016, the feature faded away as we changed the formatting of our publication. Durham also moved on, to a position at PBS Utah, where she is currently Director of Programming and Community Engagement. In addition to overseeing the on-air schedule for PBS Utah’s four channels, she connects Utahns by curating projects and planning events that utilize local and national media to provide entertainment and meaningful dialogue beyond broadcast. She also produces Contact, a nightly interview program hosted by Mary Dickson.

Durham also currently serves on the board of the Utah Cultural Alliance Foundation, and in 2020, she was appointed by her peers to serve on the PBS Advisory Board as the staff representative. She has been a past vice president of the Salt Lake Gallery Association, program director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll and an active member of the Downtown Alliance.

When she’s not working for or watching PBS, she sings alto with Utah Chamber Artists, a professional choir based in Salt Lake City. She is a published writer having written regularly for 15 Bytes (pretty much from the beginning). She read her essay on grace for NPR’s The Bob Edwards Show, originally written for This I Believe. She lives in Salt Lake City and lives for her work and passions.

As we resurrect our “On the Spot” feature, in honor of our 20-year anniversary, it seemed appropriate to send our questions to its original editor.


A portrait of Durham by Alvin Gittins

Is there a piece of art in your house growing up that sticks in your mind?

Yes. We had a big Gittins sketch of my dad when he was 19 hanging in the living room. It’s still there. It’s a charcoal sketch with my dad in a tee shirt, and jacket with a golf bag over his shoulder. My mom was totally embarrassed by it, I mean, who has a giant portrait of a person who currently lives in their house on display like that? Super wealthy people (not us). Alvin Gittins did that as a friendly gesture for my Grandpa Durham who taught music at the University of Utah. Every time there was a holiday, we (well, not my dad) dressed it up with hats made from paper that we stuck on the glass with tape.

What hangs above your mantel?

A 50” television monitor currently hangs above my mantel. I never wanted to be that person who put a tv on a pedestal like that, but here we are. Two months ago, it was a gallery wall of original art and prints I got in Italy from a trip in 2019. I should say that I work for a TV station and not only do I watch a lot of TV for work, I watch a lot of TV for fun and the people who built my house laid out the living room in a way that clearly wanted me to put the TV there. So please forgive me. You know what, I wrote this question myself over a decade ago, and what I was trying to get at was what piece of art does one value above all else? So here’s a little story: I had a moment last winter. I moved a lot of my favorite art down in my bedroom. I kept it upstairs for many years because I thought “No one will see it downstairs,” but then I realized I should put things I love in my bedroom. It’s my personal space. So each night I fall asleep looking at artwork by Ted Wassmer, Sandy Brunvand, Heidi Moller Somsen, Stephanie Kelly Clark, and others.

If you could choose one person to paint or sculpt your portrait who would it be?

John Singer Sargent. I’d dress up real fancy, borrow some nice jewelry and he’d make me look posh enough that it would make sense for my portrait to hang in my house, because look! I look wealthy. Or I’d have Alvin Gittins do it because maybe he’d give me the friends and family discount.

What are you reading lately?

I’m reading so many emails…but on my nightstand is a book called Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. I learned about this book from a Radiowest episode back in June. It’s not only about how clothing is a means for us to express ourselves, but clothing also reveals who has the power in our society and how those in power use it to control others.

What is your favorite building in Utah?

The Utah State Capitol. I love stately architecture and I spent many years living on Capitol Hill. When it was remodeled I volunteered as a docent when it reopened. At night, that illuminated building was a beacon that signaled home for me. Sometimes I would skip the freeway and opt to take State Street when I was driving from down south so I could see it the whole way home.

What is the most memorable exhibit you’ve seen recently?

Oof. Haven’t been out much since the pandemic. I did visit UMOCA recently and saw the exhibits on display there. The 90th anniversary of UMOCA exhibition was memorable because, well, it had a lot of memorabilia. I remembered so many of those books and those exhibition catalogs from my early years working for the Utah Arts Council. It was meaningful to see how far our arts community has come and who helped make it meaningful. It made me realize no matter where I am or who I work for, my time working for the artists of Utah shaped me.

What is the last artistic thing you created yourself?

My friend Emily surprised me at my door a couple weeks ago with a bag of fresh peaches she got in Grand Junction, Colorado. To show my gratitude, I dusted off my watercolors and painted a peach for her and sent it as a thank you card. I gave up all notions of needing to be good at watercolors before I shared them with people. She texted me today to say she put it on her fridge.

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2 replies »

  1. Oh, Laura, you DO look “posh enough” in that photo for a portrait by Sargent or Gittens or anyone you choose. I can’t believe how you’ve grown up on us in the past few years. Along with all the new responsibilities you’ve assumed after getting 15 Bytes off the ground with Shawn Rossiter. What would my meager television viewing be without your capable assistance? Thank you for all that you do for Utah and for me. Please find time to write for 15 Bytes now and again. You are top-notch and sorely missed.

    • That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long while. Thanks for making me feel valued and most of all, thank you for your compliments on my writing because you are a pro and that speaks to my heart. It’s something I want to get back at for sure. And thanks from all of us up at the broadcast center for watching/supporting PBS! “Viewers like you ” — you make it happen 🙂

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