Public Issues

Leadership in the Arts: Corroon vs Herbert

by Amanda Finlayson

The governor of Utah has direct influence on the state of the arts in Utah, from the appointment of a Utah Arts Council director to state tourism initiatives and arts education funding. I recently met separately with both of Utah’s gubernatorial candidates, Gary Herbert and Peter Corroon, in order to discuss their feelings about arts and culture and their plans to support artistic industries throughout the State. The candidates were kind enough to share with me some of their personal experiences with the arts as well as respond to a series of brief questions. Because I was not allowed to record one of the interviews, answers are provided in paraphrased form.

I met with Governor Gary Herbert and his Communications Director, Angie Welling, in the governor’s office at the Utah State Capitol Building where paintings by H.L.A. Culmer, donated to the Utah State Capitol by mining magnate Colonel Edwin F. Holmes in 1916, adorn the walls and books about Utah, including Painters of Utah’s Canyons and Deserts and Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon, are spread out across the coffee tables. Herbert says his mother, a self-taught pianist, insisted that he learn to play the piano so that he wouldn’t be just another “dumb jock.” During his high school years he played the trumpet and joined a band that played big band pop music. His wife paints, and the family, which includes an American Idol contestant, loves music and sometimes sings together at events.

Herbert is currently heading an effort for the State to honor Arnold Friberg, and has commissioned Ed Fraughton to create a bust of Friberg to be housed at the State Library. He notes that the state honors artists quarterly, most recently the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Steve Maddox, for culinary arts. As Utah County Commissioner, Herbert says, he helped to promote the Sundance Film Festival and his wife planned the recent Governor’s Gala with a Broadway-type, Constitution Day theme and musical performances highlighting Utah talent.

I met with Mayor Peter Corroon in his campaign headquarters on South Temple, a place where behind the boxes of fliers and stacks of yard signs you’ll see artwork provided by Artists for Corroon, an artist-driven group that is supporting his campaign. Corroon’s exposure to the performing arts came through his parents, who, when he was a young man, gave him fine arts performance tickets – to the opera, symphony and theatre — as gifts in order to maintain his cultural awareness. He played the clarinet growing up, and has a continued interest in jazz and classical music. In the visual arts he enjoys photography. He reminisced about spending hours in the dark room and says in high school he considered pursuing it as a career. His parents’ influence has had a lasting effect and he says he laments the Utah Opera subscription he had to give up because of his busy schedule.

Corroon highlighted Salt Lake County’s Cultural Facilities Master Plan and indicated that Salt Lake County has the largest public art collection of Utah artists in the world. Corroon also engages in the County’s art exhibit for employees and their families, where his children have participated every year. He also works closely with the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts, and said that the “arts are the heart and soul of our communities.”

What is the role of state government in advancing tourism through arts and culture?
Herbert indicated that he is conscious of the effect the arts have on tourism, and highlighted the “Stay an Extra Day” campaign and says he was helpful in the creation of the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point.

Corroon says that while people come to Utah primarily for the outdoors, art experiences also draw tourists, citing Sundance as an example of the arts bringing tourist dollars to Utah. He pointed to ways that government can encourage this, such as Salt Lake County’s Center for the Arts hosting Sundance Film Festival screenings downtown and the State Office of Tourism board funding events all over the state, even in small communities.

What is the role of the arts in the state’s education system?
Herbert recently attended a one-day session presented by Robert Redford at Sundance, which addressed the impact that the arts have on students, and he believes that the arts, included in the overall curriculum, increase proficiency, support a well-rounded education, and develop the creative side of the brain.

Corroon believes the arts guarantee a well-educated mind, as well as help in other academic fields. There is a strong correlation between high performance in math through exposure to music. He indicated that he doesn’t want the school systems to be barren of arts education funding and hopes to put money back into the discipline. He shared that he and his wife encourage each of their children to be involved in at least one sport, one art, and one language so that they will be well-rounded human beings.

What is the role of culture and the arts in building communities?

Herbert feels culture has been important in Utah since its pioneer days: having culture and music in a wilderness setting was a way to provide a contrast to the surrounding frontier and allowed for a well-rounded community. He said, “the arts are an escape and uplift thoughts.”

Corroon says that “the arts bring communities together.” He recently attended a benefit for Gilgal Sculpture Garden , a venue that attracted 15,000 people last year, and was impressed with the community’s investment in the program. Salt Lake’s Gallery Stroll gets people out into the community, walking, actively engaged in art, he points out, and says “the arts make this a better place to live.”

Do you have plans for engaging arts-centric businesses in the growth of Utah’s economy?
Herbert noted that Utah was recently praised as having the best economic outlook in America and he believes this is accentuated by the significant cultural component in our lives. Culture is an essential fabric in Utah life. Even small communities have cultural celebrations because we’re proud of our communities.

Corroon pointed to Salt Lake County’s recent purchase of the property immediately west of Capitol Theatre in order to help Ballet West build a new academy location. There are also plans underway to renovate the Capitol Theatre itself. He indicated that Artspace plays an important role for visual artists and Sundance leads the film industry, lending prestige to Utah. Engaging individual artists in Utah’s economy makes sense, especially in the long-term. The University of Utah is turning out great talent for the digital media industry and Utah could be a leader in that field, he says.

How do you feel about public funding for the arts?
Herbert believes that funding needs to be more privatized. Utah currently spends $3 million in arts outreach efforts through the State Office of Education and spends $11 million on the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which is a public/private partnership. He said the private sector needs to step up and pointed out that public education opportunities in arts-based curriculum are taxpayer funded.

Corroon believes that the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks program as a voter initiative is a wonderful example of citizens choosing to fund the arts. He helped campaign for the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks Tax reauthorization in 2008 and jokingly quoted Carter Livingston, a Utah lobbyist, who said that in Utah “ZAP is more popular than George Bush.”

What is your opinion of Salt Lake City’s controversial plans for developing the Utah Performance Center (in downtown Salt Lake)?
Herbert says there are performing arts centers in other cities in the state and if Salt Lake City has the support, then they should do it. Steve Covey was successful in building the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo through a public/private partnership, he points out. Herbert was otherwise hesitant, indicating that it was a local issue and that it would require private sector funding.

Corroon indicated that he is supportive of the Center’s development if it is well utilized by the community, as is the case with the Sundance Institute, the film industry, and digital media artists, among others.

How do you feel about the proposed statewide Recreation, Arts & Parks Tax?
Herbert was not aware of the statewide RAP proposal. After our interview I e-mailed him the audit performed by the Office of Legislative Auditor General for the State of Utah, but have had no response to date.

Corroon indicated that he had seen the audit and thought that the possibility looked promising and is supportive of the introduction of this tax. He believes that it would be beneficial to communities throughout the state.

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3 replies »

  1. I have looked up Peter Caroon’s education plan, but I see no concrete ideas about including the very important arts education plans in this overview.
    I am pleased with this story but would like more in-depth questions about arts education answered by both. My vote depends on this information.

  2. This may not be concrete enough to answer Shirley’s question but here it goes. I am the co-chair of Peter’s finance committee so let me disclose that right up front!
    Peter and Sheryl are very much interested in, and supportive of, fixing our broken educational system. As you no doubt no, Utah is dead last by some 20% in per-pupil funding. In this last legislative session, Utah cut K-12 education funding by some $10 million and the State added 11,000 new K-12 students. The math obviously doesn’t work.
    Peter and Sheryl are also very supportive of the arts both in and out of the school system. They realize, and have said, that arts and culture are an important part of education both in and outside of the school system. Peter has demonstrated this commitment as County Mayor in support of the various County arts and cultural organizations, supporting a State-wide ZAP tax, etc. Together, Peter and Sheryl believe that exposure to arts and culture in and outside of the school system make for better educated and well-rounded children, increase SAT scores and increase economic development. Further, it is clear that any “major” city or important State in the Country has significant cultural offerings which are part of the attraction to businesses relocating in areas that their employees will find exciting.
    Governor Herbert has indicated his opposition to a statewide ZAP tax and has not otherwise been particularly supportive of the arts.
    So while I cannot comment on the completeness of Peter’s education plan as it relates specifically to arts education and funding, it is absolutely clear to me that Peter and Sheryl are very supportive of arts education in school and are supportive of arts and cultural organizations outside of schools – all in an effort to balance costs with the importance of exposure of our children to arts and culture for their own sake, and for the sake of our future.
    I hope this helps somewhat and I will try to get a more “official” response if time permits between now and the election.

  3. The article mentions that “Utah currently spends $3 million in arts outreach efforts through the State Office of Education and spends $11 million on the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which is a public/private partnership.”
    This statement makes it sound as if the State Office of Education spends $11 million each year on the Sorenson Arts Learning Program. This is not entirely accurate.
    Past support of this program has been appreciated and successful. But this funding, which provides visual art, dance, and music instruction to elementary school students, could end after this school year when the program runs out of money.
    Program advocates are asking lawmakers for another $4 million to keep it going next school year.
    Please see for more information.

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