Orem • It’s taken four years to turn a 39,000-square-foot private mansion into an art museum for people in Utah County and beyond to enjoy — and this weekend, people get to see it for themselves.
Utah Valley University’s new Museum of Art at Lakemount Manor will have its official opening Saturday, starting at noon. The museum occupies a huge mansion, nestled in a residential neighborhood in Orem, at 240 W. 1800 South.
The mansion, with nine bedrooms and 16 bathrooms, was designed and owned by Melanie Bastian, ex-wife of Bruce Bastian — who is famous for co-founding, with Alan Ashton, the company behind the word-processing software WordPerfect in 1978. The success of WordPerfect made Bruce Bastian one of the country’s wealthiest people — with a spot, for a time, on the Forbes 400 list, according to Deseret News.
Melanie and Bruce married in 1976, and divorced in 1994. Bruce later came out as gay, and has become a major donor to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ causes, including the fight for same-sex marriage.
Melanie Bastian maintained the house — with its distant view of Utah Lake, wood floors, cavernous halls, vaulted ceilings, marble details and even an elevator — until her death in 2016. In 2018, the Bastian sons donated the house to UVU, where Melanie was on the board of trustees.
“Melanie was a lifelong supporter of arts and education,” her son, Darren, said in 2018, according to a UVU news release. “She built this huge, beautiful home, but she didn’t build it for herself — she built it for us and she built it for the community. She wanted it to be used by people she loved, and for her that included a lot of people.”
Courtney Davis, dean of UVU’s school of arts, echoes that sentiment, “She opened the doors oftentimes to the community, and the home was very much a community gathering space,” she said.
Making gallery space
The mansion-turned-museum is getting ready to unveil its first exhibition, “The Art of Belonging,” and become a gathering space once more.
Jim Godfrey, associate dean of the school of arts, said the university has converted six rooms and a hallway into art gallery space.
“We actually went back east and toured a few homes that had been turned into art museums, to kind of get an idea of what would need to be done and how,” Godfrey said.
It took four years to transform the private mansion into a public museum, Godfrey said, in part because of coding obstacles — and because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Next to one of the gates that leads to the property, a dilapidated CDC COVID guidance sign still hangs.)
The focus of the exhibition, which will run through Sept. 16, is on BIPOC culture, Godfrey said. It features work from local, national and international artists “who will demonstrate how art museums can work toward social, racial, and economic justice,” according to a release from UVU.
The exhibition is in three parts, and is part of a larger UVU initiative that has the goal of exploring “themes of belonging in community and culture.” The exhibition is a collaboration between artist and educator Jorge Rojas and Fanny Guadalupe Blauer, executive director of Artes de Mexico en Utah.
One part of the exhibition is solely curated by Rojas. Another is of Rojas’ work, curated by Taylor Wright. The third is a statewide juried exhibition, with 50 artworks in various media from 40 Utah BIPOC artists.
Among the pieces in the juried exhibition are an acrylic painting of expressionless people by Crystal Callison, a piece with glass beading on canvas from Bianca Velasquez, and two rooms with video projections of pieces.
In another gallery, an exhibit from Mexican artist Maruch Santíz Gómez, “Beliefs of Our Forebears,” explores the culture of the ethnic group Tzotzil Maya (which Santíz Gómez identifies as) through photography.
“Her work centers on kind of documenting aspects of culture and life where she grew up in Mexico, and being able to create some kind of permanence or perseverance for that — so that not only people in her culture can see what life was like, but also that the rest of us can experience that,” Godfrey said.
‘The integrity of the home’
Some of Melanie Bastian’s personal art collection is on display. Overall, Godfrey said, there was a deliberate effort to “maintain the character of the home as it was when Melanie lived there. That’s in part because the home is its own work of art in many ways … we wanted to keep the integrity of the home.”
One personal touch not open to visitors: In the basement, the floor from the Delta Center for the 1993 NBA All-Star Game. It’s in perfect condition, weathered only by the scuff marks from the shoes of such players as Karl Malone and John Stockton. (Bruce Bastian has been a longtime Utah Jazz season-ticket holder.)
Since the mansion is in a residential area, Godfrey said there were initial concerns about traffic in the neighborhood. But, he added, people seem to be on board, because it reflects Melanie’s legacy of making her home open to others.
Godfrey said the act of pulling the community into the home to view the art also makes visitors part of the exhibits themselves.
With finishing touches being made to the gallery spaces this week, Davis and Godfrey both said they were excited to have the first visitors come through, and to see what the space will do for the local art community, especially in terms of bringing diverse art and stories to Utah County.
“One phrase we use a lot as a UVU is ‘there’s a place for you,’” Godfrey said. Because of that, he said, “The Art of Belonging” is a great way to open the new museum.
“We want people from all over Utah to feel like they belong here, whether they’re art aficionados or not,” he said. “Maybe it will be the first time that someone’s experienced art or experienced different cultures in Utah, or been exposed to different ways of looking at the world.”
The grand opening of Utah Valley University’s Museum of Art at Lakemount Manor, at 240 W. 1800 South, Orem, will include a community celebration, noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 13. Self-guided tours will be held from noon to 5 p.m.; art creation activities from 1 to 5 p.m.; remarks from exhibition curators from 5:30 to 6 p.m.; a performance by the multicultural dance showcase “Remembering Our Culture” wlll run from 6 to 7 p.m.; and a DJ-led dance party will go from 7 to 8 p.m. Events are free to the public.