Opinion: At UMOCA, we welcome change. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of SLC’s arts and culture scene.

Partnership and investment are critical to ensuring a vibrant entertainment district.

As readers likely know, exciting changes are coming to downtown Salt Lake City with the development of a new entertainment district. As executive director and board president for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, we know that while change can bring uncertainty, it also comes with opportunity. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of arts and culture.

As we move forward, we must build on our history and our proven ability to continue serving as a critical part of a vibrant downtown experience.

In 1974, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) and the Utah Symphony were selected to be part of a proposed Bicentennial Arts Complex Project to be built downtown and funded by Salt Lake County and the Utah State Legislature. We now know these buildings as Abravanel Hall and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

Legislators’ decision to center arts and culture in downtown Salt Lake was visionary and transformative for our city, leading to decades of musicians, artists, writers, thinkers, composers and so many students experiencing the cultural richness of our state.

Fifty years later, we have another historic, once-in-a-generation opportunity before us. As part of the revitalization of downtown Salt Lake City, there are questions about the future of the Bicentennial Arts Complex and the organizations who make it their home.

Like Abravanel Hall, UMOCA is also two years into our master planning and renovation discussions and, through these studies and close conversations with the county, we have realized the high cost of renovating a 50-year-old building. Given this, a new home in the downtown sports, entertainment, cultural and convention district presents a real opportunity.

As leaders of UMOCA, we’ve been asked a lot of questions from our patrons, artists, students, residents and community members. We want them to know three things as the plans for downtown progress:

  1. We will continue our long legacy of working with our symphony neighbors and Salt Lake County on our shared vision of advancing arts and culture in Utah. We are deeply passionate about the generational impact of our organizations and will work to serve future generations of Utahns.

  2. We are optimistic about this opportunity to reimagine the downtown experience and are inspired by the initial vision set by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Jazz and NHL teams owner Ryan Smith. We are encouraged by Mike Maughan’s statement that “beloved institutions like Abravanel Hall and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art remain on site with better connection points.” And we wholeheartedly agree with the statement that “the downtown experience will serve as the state’s anchor for arts, culture, sports and entertainment.”

  3. We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with the Utah State Legislature, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and Smith Entertainment Group to explore possibilities for renovation or relocating within the new district.

We’re clear that our future is based on two basic tenets: Arts belong in the core of our downtown; and investment in the arts is a shared responsibility of all partners. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the reimagining and shaping of a city for the next generation needs clearly allocated resources and investment for the future of the arts.

UMOCA is built from a community of innovative, forward-thinking artists with creativity and problem-solving in our blood and we are excited to bring new solutions and perspectives to the table as, together, we shape the city of the future.

(Photo courtesy of UMOCA) Laura Allred Hurtado

Laura Allred Hurtado is the executive director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

(Photo courtesy of UMOCA) Richard Walje

Richard Walje is the president of the board of trustees for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

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