For 20 years, the city of Ephraim had a gentlemen's agreement with the Central Utah Art Center. Maintain the building that once housed a ZCMI Granary in Ephraim's Pioneer Square, city fathers said, and the lease will be free.
That agreement ended June 25. Citing limited funds and failure to deliver art education programs to local school districts and Snow College, Ephraim Mayor David Parrish and all five City Council members ordered the center to vacate the premises at 86 N. Main St. by Aug. 20.
"The City's involvement in an art center must be predicated upon the benefit provided to its residents," the letter read. "Ephraim City is committed to providing a space where local artists can show their work and where art education is the driving force behind the center."
Center director Adam Bateman said the center had done plenty in that regard.
More than 32 percent of its exhibits featured work by Sanpete County artists. The center offered its space on many occasions for Snow College art students and faculty to exhibit their work and curate shows, in addition to opportunities for scholarships and internships. More than 500 local elementary-school students took art classes at the center, and Bateman said he had a program and curriculum in place for this coming fall to teach classes in Ephraim Elementary School.
It was all part of a negotiated effort between the city and CUAC, as it's known, to bring educational programs to the fore of its mission. In exchange, the center could continue receiving its $30,000 annual stipend, which Ephraim provided for six years running.
"There was never any discussion of them evicting us ever. It only concerned funding," Bateman said.
What precipitated the city's decision to evict, Bateman believes, was a visit to the center by Parrish and two council members during the opening week of the exhibit "SuperHUMAN." Included in the exhibit, which opened June 8, are three photographic works by artist Chitra Ganesh that feature a woman's nude breasts.
When Bateman heard from CUAC staff that the exhibit was getting lots of traffic from city administrators and council members, he emailed City Manager Regan Bolli. In an email reply, provided by Bateman to The Salt Lake Tribune, Bolli wrote to Bateman: "I should let you know that the art depicted was not appreciated."
Bateman said the "SuperHUMAN" exhibit will remain on display until the center closes its doors.
"We feel we can answer to the reasons they cite for evicting us really well," Bateman said. "They don't have a strong argument in that direction. It's one more bit of evidence that this all comes down to censorship. The fact that they're so unsympathetic to our efforts at education shows that they have other concerns."
Parrish disagreed, saying that if CUAC had met its part of the bargain in fortifying its arts education programs for the community, the letter ordering the organization out would never have been sent.
"The art that was displayed does not represent what the values of the community are, but that is not the issue. The issue is that if they'd met expectations of one year ago, we would have kept our alliance and partnership with CUAC," Parrish said.
Bateman acknowledged the center's educational efforts could have been implemented and carried out with more speed, but the departure of the center's executive director soon after negotiations with the city made it difficult.
CUAC has interim plans to carry on its mission in one form or another until it finds another space, he said. Pop-up shows in makeshift locations may be a possibility. During its time in Ephraim, CUAC brought in an estimated 5,000 visitors per year to view its cutting-edge exhibits exploring social themes and issues through art. Two years ago, the center received a prestigious Andy Warhol Foundation Grant of $97,000 for its programming.
Bateman and staff will throw a party Aug. 18, with bus transportation to and from Salt Lake City, to close the center. The swan-song celebration will feature music by a DJ, dancing and a screening of "Footloose." The 1984 film, starring Kevin Bacon, narrates the struggle of rural teenagers to bring dancing and fun to a small American town that bans dancing.
"Showing 'Footloose' is consistent with our mission to trust our audience, raise questions and bring awareness," Bateman said. "It's not an attempt to take the moral high ground. Plus, I just like the movie."
Central Utah Art Center's'Farewell, Ephraim' event
When • Aug. 18, with bus departing from Salt Lake City at 5:30 p.m.
Where • 86 N. Main St., Ephraim
Info • $15 for bus transportation to and from event, which includes DJ, dancing, screening of "Footloose" and refreshments. Free tickets available by email: email@example.com.Visit cuartcenter.org for more information.