With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past several months have meant for them. Emily Larsen is a Utah-based curator and collage artist. She currently works as the Head of Exhibitions and Programs at the Springville Museum of Art and is pursuing an M.A. in U.S. History at the University of Utah.
2020 was definitely a year of pivoting. In March, like many other cultural institutions, the Springville Museum of Art, where I work, closed their doors for several months, and postponed the annual “Spring Salon” for the first time since WWII. I was in the middle of a semester at the University of Utah, where I’m working on a graduate degree and all of our classes shifted to Zoom. My husband, Eric Boothe, and I started watching the Sopranos.
The day the earthquake happened we could feel it all the way down in Utah County; we were still in bed and I remember saying, “I think that was an earthquake,” and Eric replying, “I think it was just our bed swaying.” He had already learned to lean into the strangeness of 2020 and just accept whatever was going to happen.
Acceptance has been another theme of the year along with learning to pivot. It’s taught me to always be ready to change plans, come up with a new solution, and be willing to let go of things that just aren’t working — whether that’s in my work at the museum, my artmaking, or my research.
At the museum, we’ve worked to transform our programs. We’ve had Zoom opening receptions, virtual field trips, and a drive-thru Halloween activity. Our director, Rita Wright, even led a ghost tour through an empty museum. I’ve been especially excited about our K-12 programming. One of our most successful projects was an online exhibition of K-12 artwork responding to the pandemic. The students were asked to respond to how their lives have changed using the prompt “Up Close and Far Away” — what things had become closer and what had moved away in their new realities? Their artwork was thoughtful, poignant, and in some cases, heartbreaking. See it here. This fall, we’ve worked to create digital outreach programs for teachers and students. I was especially excited about a training I developed for Social Studies teachers on how to incorporate visual arts in the classroom.
As an artist, I’ve been less successful. Between work and pandemic anxiety I have not been making as much art as usual. I have, however, doodled a lot more. Zoom inspires my habit of making blind contour drawings during meetings. I have probably made more silly contour drawings this year than anything else; although I did make a few collages — including some business-card-sized works for the inaugural show at the J. Kirk Richards’ Gallery. The size constraint was perfect for my limited attention span.
I am continuing to work on my research and writing on Utah artists, especially in collaboration with Heather Belnap at BYU. Though, with archives closed or having limited hours, this too has slowed. But, I’ve made some progress on a few different projects, one focusing on art education and Americanization in Progessive Era Utah schools and a larger project about how Utah women used art to navigate gender and power during the early twentieth century.
I’ve been inspired by all the artists, curators, critics, and writers I interact with online. I think a huge strength of the Utah art scene is our community. I’ve desperately missed in-person openings, lectures, and gallery strolls. But, I’ve been heartened by the resiliency and adaptation everyone has shown. It encourages me that our creative community is still here and will still be here when this is all over, with new skills, ideas, and resources in our tool belts.
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: Still Here