Public Issues | Visual Arts

Salt Lake City’s Art Mayor? Four SLC Mayoral candidates and their personal and professional views on the visual arts

by amanda moore

15 Bytes sat down with the four major candidates in the Salt Lake City mayoral race to get their views on arts in Salt Lake City. We asked each of them the same set of questions, and although each expressed general support, their answers varied as much as might be expected.

Ralph BeckerKeith Christensen, Dave Buhler and Jenny Wilson are running in the Salt Lake City mayoral primaries held Tuesday September 11th. For a full transcript of the interviews, look for the links at the bottom of this article.

Artistic Tastes and Influences
A print of James Jones’ “North Rim Grand Canyon” was Ralph Becker’s  most recent acquisition, and he cites the Work Progress Administration (WPA) artist H.L.A. Culmer as one of his favorites. “We need to be continually promoting the great Utah art we have,” he says about the local art scene. He met with 15 Bytes at his office and campaign headquarters. The office is decorated with bears—prints, stuffed, and other—all given to him by friends in reference to the name of his company, Bear West.

Dave Buhler, a fan of Leconte Stewart and other rural landscapist artists, couldn’t name the last piece of art he acquired. “I may need to consult my wife, he joked. He met with 15 Bytes at the Anderson Foothill Library, the site of an Olympic Art project he is proud to have championed. |1| “I thought it would be really neat to have a sculpture,” he says about his input over the selection. One educational aspect of his project called for a scale model of the sculpture to be given to each of the schools in his district.

Keith Christensen collects the work of a variety of artists in his home, including the art of several Utahns. He laments having had to go to Arizona to buy a piece by Utah native Kent Wallis. He feels the Salt Lake City mayor should help “give artists of that quality a forum in Salt Lake City.” He met with 15 Bytes at his home, which is full of a collection of sculpture and paintings ranging from Kent Wallis (“[he has a] bold, colorful approach to things”) and Eric Wallis (“a young talent that is going to be incredible”) to original Disney animation cells. His most recent acquisition was a piece by Springville artist Marty Ricks.

Jenny Wilson’s latest acquisition, a Ted Wassmer piece, was a gift from her mother, Kathryn Wilson, owner of Sego Gallery. “My mom has made a career out of being an artist and gallery owner,” says Wilson, “[and I] married a guy whose mother is in the same camp—a very strong visual artist.” Wilson lists as her favorite artists her mother, Kathryn Wilson, and her mother-in-law, Marah Brown Rohovit. Extending beyond the family, Wilson enjoys Kathryn Stats, a southern Utah landscape painter.

Support for Art in Salt Lake City
“What I have done in the past couple years,” says Buhler, “is increase the funding [for the Salt Lake City Arts Council].” Buhler explains that when going over the city budget, if you want to add some money here, you have to take it from there. “So it’s not a small thing to say we put some money in [the Salt Lake City Arts Council] that was not [originally] in that budget.” He adds: “I am very supportive of the work they do. I think they manage it well.” Buhler is also on the advisory board for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Artspace is really interesting,” says Christensen. “I spent some time working on Artspace when I was on the City Council.” In fact, Stephen Goldsmith, the person behind Artspace, is a member of Christensen’s campaign steering committee. Christensen looks at a wide variety of artistic media: “When I think visual arts, I don’t just think painting—I think of the display of visual arts outside. It is exciting to see street art; it makes the street come alive.” Christensen applauds what is happening on 300 South, and wants to see more places where people can stroll and interact with art and galleries. “I think of [great places to go] like San Francisco and New York, and art is a big part of those communities.”

Wilson is happy to be a member of the Salt Lake County Council, which has “already helped [the Salt Lake Art Center] substantially” by making sure they’re housed rent-free. “I think it’s a very important entity within the community … I think they do a great job.” Wilsons favorite places to view art include “really small galleries that have some very unusual things. Part of art appreciation and really learning from art is seeing some of the really innovative and creative kind of funky, sometimes not-so-successful projects.” Wilson is also on the advisory board for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

As a member of the planning commission in the mid-1990’s, Becker says he helped identify and support a cultural district on 300 South that would become the thriving local art scene it is today. He is proud to still enjoy it, and referred to the recent Laura Besterfeldt show at the Kayo Gallery as “amazing.” As for supporting the Salt Lake City Arts Council: “I really don’t know what their need is versus what they get.” But, “I think Nancy [Boskoff, director of the SLC Arts Council,] is fantastic at her job.”

If Elected Mayor . . .”
Christensen recognizes the value art plays in how livable a city is. “It is indispensable to the vitality of community, particularly our downtown area.” Christensen also recognizes that it makes strong business sense to foster a strong art scene: “Art itself draws people … the convention and tourist business is a big thing to us, and people want to know what they can go look at, what they can see.” Christensen sees the role of the mayor’s office as an important one in the arts scene: “Funding is imperative … We have wonderful people donating to the arts continually. The better we do, the more inclined they will be to donate as well.”

When asked what the mayor’s office could do to better serve the visual arts community, Wilson refers to her website and her ideas on a “creative economy.” She stresses that we have to focus on our creative industries in the new developments downtown, including “fostering young people who are creative with technology, architectural firms, graphic artists, [and] more galleries.” Wilson adds: “I really believe that the arts enrich learning … I want to see more arts back in the schools.” What does she hope to do as mayor for art in the city? “We really need to get a better understanding to the community that art is a priority.”

“We need to be continually promoting the great Utah art we have, says Becker. “We have a great diversity of visual artists and galleries.” As mayor, Becker would be an advocate for the arts: “I think part of the job of mayor is promoting Utah and Salt Lake City’s assets.” Becker notes his involvement with the 300 South corridor: “I think it really helps to have a concentration of art places. We actually have that right now on Broadway. We need to examine how to protect that space.”

Buhler is consistent with his campaign: “I think being accessible, reasonable, open to [the visual arts community], be willing to listen to them. Continuing to support the 1% for art.” Buhler notes how much he relied on Nancy Boskoff and the Salt Lake City Arts Council when installing the Olympic sculpture at the Anderson Foothill Library. “I had the idea, but I had no idea how to pull it off … [The Salt Lake Art Council] took care of that for me.” Buhler would continue to support the Art Council if elected mayor: “[Visual arts] can be an area that can be tough for cities or government to be involved in, but I think they manage it very, very well.”

The Salt Lake City mayoral primaries are Tuesday, September 11. Read the full interviews: Ralph BeckerKeith ChristensenJenny WilsonDave Buhler.



Categories: Public Issues | Visual Arts

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