The gallery — in Glendinning Mansion on Salt Lake City’s South Temple, on the same block as the Governor’s Mansion — is a modest but crucial space, the only open state-owned art gallery in Utah’s capital city.
(The other state-owned art space in Salt Lake City is the Rio Gallery, in the Rio Grande Depot, which has been closed since March 2020, after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Wasatch Front and damaged the depot.)
The gallery and adjoining offices of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, the state agency that oversees arts and culture, will be saying goodbye to Glendinning Mansion this fall. The gallery will host its final gallery stroll on Sept. 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. The UDAM had been told it would vacate the mansion for space on Highland Drive, no later than Nov. 11 — but on Thursday, the division’s director, Victoria “Vicki” Panella Bourns said the moving date has been delayed until January, because the new office space will not be ready by November.
The Alice has been a crucial exhibition space for up-and-coming Utah artists, Bourns said.
“I’m thinking about all the thousands of artists whose works have been shown in this gallery at different stages in their careers … [how] a couple of sales gave them a boost of confidence to keep going,” she said, tearing up.
What agency will take over Glendinning Mansion? According to Jim Russell, director of the state’s Division of Facilities Construction and Management, which allocates state building space, the new occupants will be the Utah Highway Patrol.
“We will be renovating that building and re-using it for highway patrol and for security for the Governor’s Mansion complex,” Russell said.
Russell added that there have been issues at the Governor’s Mansion with “separating public and private spaces for the first family.” Under the master plan Russell said was being finalized, Glendinning Mansion would become the public entrance and screening area for the Governor’s Mansion campus.
Panella Bourns noted that “she can envision how there are times when there isn’t that separation” between public and private spaces. “I think it’s really important to care for the safety of the first family,” she said.
Security for Gov. Spencer Cox and his family came under scrutiny earlier this year, when The Salt Lake Tribune reported that security improvements to Cox’s Sanpete County home had gone over their $500,000 budget.
So who was Alice?
The Alice Gallery was named for Alice Merrill Horne, an artist and one of the first women to serve in the Utah Legislature. A vigorous supporter and advocate for the arts, Merrill Horne founded the Utah Arts Council — the precursor to UDAM — in 1899. A state art collection is named after her. A bust of Merrill Horne sits inside UDAM’s office at Glendinning Mansion.
“Because of Alice, we are the oldest state arts agency in the nation, and probably one of the oldest art collections,” Panella Bourns said.
Karen Horne, the acclaimed artist and owner of the Horne Fine Art Gallery, is Alice’s great-granddaughter. She recalled stories her father told of her great-grandmother’s brilliant knack for finding venues for art — such as the Tiffin Room in the old ZCMI downtown (now the City Creek Macy’s), where she hung Utah artists’ work and discussed it with visitors.
“She looked for many opportunities to introduce art into various settings,” Horne said.
The Alice Gallery’s closure, Horne said, is a blow to the accessibility of art — something her great-grandmother believed in and fought for.
“It’s so important for people to experience art in-person, not just on a screen. To be able to sit down in front of it and interact with other art lovers, to look at the brush work and maybe chat with an artist,” Horne said.
Russell, at the Division of Facilities Construction and Management, said his agency would help find a “suitable location for [UDAM] that will fit their needs.” His agency is looking at “a lot of options” — and once a solution is found, the two divisions will “seek funding from the Legislature for that.”
Russell said he wasn’t sure if any of those options for UDAM were in downtown Salt Lake City.
The decision to move UDAM happened “roughly two months ago,” Russell said, and a master plan for the campus has just been finished. The funding request, Russell said, would be for renovations for Glendinning Mansion.
Exhibiting art, online and in person
Like everyone, including other arts organizations, UDAM has had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The division’s entire collection is now online. Nancy Rivera, UDAM’s visual arts coordinator, said the agency has mounted digital exhibitions and partnered with such venues as Finch Lane Gallery — near the University of Utah campus, run by the Salt Lake City Arts Council — and the nonprofit Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts, next door to the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Rivera said UDAM’s goal is to “think outside the box” about what they can do to not lose support for artists entirely.
The Alice Gallery, which Rivera programs, stands out among Salt Lake City’s art spaces because of how it’s managed, she said. The gallery doesn’t take a commission from art sales, as commercial galleries do — and artists don’t have to pay entry fees for exhibitions or display proposals, she said. (Typically, Rivera said, artists can pay between $5 and $35 just to submit a proposal to a commercial gallery.) If the Alice Gallery accepts an artist’s proposal, the gallery pays the artist a fee.
Keeping spaces like the Alice open, and sustainable, is historically difficult, Rivera said, “but they’re such an important part of the ecology of the art community and what creates a nurturing space for artists.”
Is Utah ‘a great art state’?
Art critic Scotti Hill — who has covered exhibitions at the Alice Gallery, and co-curated one with Rivera in March 2020, just before the pandemic began — calls the Alice an “esteemed” place for artists to share their work and a hub for the Utah community.
“If you’re an up-and-coming artist, contemporary art galleries — in which you’re getting peer feedback and critical reception — are just not there” in Utah, she said. Major commercial galleries, she said, are often reserved for established artists.
Over the last decade, Hill said she’s noticed the number of brick-and-mortar locations for artists in Utah has dwindled.
“One of the issues in smaller art markets,” Hill said, “are just opportunities to exhibit your work.” Add gentrification and rising real estate prices, which are making it more difficult for Utah artists to find living and work space downtown, she said.
“What the Utah Division of Arts and Museums has done by having these two spaces [the Alice and the Rio galleries] is to give artists and curators this opportunity to showcase what they’re working on ... and to have it actually be funded,” Hill said.
State officials, Hill said, as they are “reclaiming a structure for their own purposes,” may be ignoring the long-term effects of losing the Alice Gallery.
“What is missing when you don’t have the Alice Gallery is this vital lifeline for artists to get financial and institutional support, but also the prestige and credibility that comes from that,” she said.
The gallery’s closure, Hill said, is the latest item in a long-running conversation about what it means to support the arts in Utah — and what it means for a Utah artist to succeed.
It’s not just an esthetic discussion, but an economic one. According to a report by the Utah Cultural Alliance, the Utah arts and culture sector brought in $17.8 billion in sales and supported nearly 109,000 jobs in 2021.
“Does success in a small art market mean just leaning into the unique attributes of this city and playing that up, or does it mean having the Utah artists who end up being successful here move to New York or L.A.?” Hill asked.
“If you’re not being recognized in your own home market,” Hill said, “no one will ever think of Utah as a great art state.”
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