More than a week has passed, and the July 1 Salt Lake Tribune story detailing the difficulties of keeping a contemporary art organization afloat in Utah is still stuck in my mind, and in my craw.
In The Tribune’s print edition, it ran under the ambiguous headline “Contemporary art museum struggling, but hopeful.” Online, it is introduced more ominously with “Strapped for cash, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts has quietly sold off ‘a substantial portion’ of its collection.”
The Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts (UMOCA), which began life in the late 1930s as the Salt Lake Art Barn, later renamed the Salt Lake Art Center, has always struggled to survive, more grimly at some times that at others. However, it continues to thrive, and I believe will continue to provide a place for new thinking and new work, not only in the visual arts, but all art forms.
“Determined” is a better word for the attitude of its staff and supporters, not “hopeful” as the headline would have it.
The article clucks at the most recent sale of works from its small collection, but UMOCA has never really been an important collecting institution, and this was not the first time that deaccessioning has happened. Nothing newsworthy either in UMOCA being “strapped for cash.” That has been a perpetual reality for all of its long, brilliant history, even with the generosity of its many supporters.
Unfortunately, it seems The Tribune neither looked closely nor thought deeply about this always fragile but vital element of Utah’s art life. The story was more hurtful than helpful, more sensational than solid, and provided no useful insight into the state of the arts in our city.
Despite the tone of the story, UMOCA will endure and continue to make art history, as it has from its beginning more than 80 years ago.
Allen Dodworth was the director of the Salt Lake Art Center from 1976 to 1981.