Art-Professional Spotlight: Salt Lake City
The MUAH's Kandace Steadman
by Kent Rigby
Have you ever tossed a small pebble into a pond and watched as the ripples extend out seemingly forever? The Utah Museum of Art at 125 South Main Street is a relatively new and small organization but it is making its presence felt and generating big waves in the Utah art scene. Executive Director Kandace Steadman is the driving force behind all of the action.
Kandace Steadman was born in Salt Lake City to parents who were involved with theater and music, but not necessarily the visual arts. “I am a product of ‘road shows’ and can probably hum or quote lyrics from most musicals dating back from the 1970s,” reveals Steadman. “I went to BYU with the intention of studying interior design. I had registered for an art history class with Dr. Richard Gunn and fell in love with the topic. I distinctly remember standing on the quad at BYU when I decided to change my major to art history (as a freshman no less) and feeling a visceral, internal shift take place inside of me. It's as if one set of doors had closed and another opened.”
Steadman stayed at BYU, and earned a masters degree in educational administration. Employment took her to Washington, DC where she lived and worked for 12 years. Eight of those years were blissful times working at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where she worked in a variety of departments, gaining valuable museum management and operation skills. “My favorite position was as assistant curator of education, where I ran a literary series and also put together a series about women chefs in Washington, DC and their sources of inspiration.”
Steadman moved back to Utah in 2000, purchased her grandparents' home in Sugarhouse and began working for the College of Education at the University of Utah. “Since I was on campus and had always wanted a masters in art history, I knew I wouldn't get a better opportunity, so I enrolled in the program,” she says. In 2004, Steadman began working for the newly created MUAH as its development director. She was made interim director in November, 2005, when the former director, Tom Rugh, left his position. Then in May of this year, Steadman was appointed to be the Museum’s executive director. In that same month, she finished her Masters in Art History. “My thesis was about the art patron, Mabel Dodge Luhan,” she says. “I had the privilege of studying with Bob Olpin.”
Next month marks MUAH’s ten year anniversary, a period in which they have installed nine exhibitions, the newest of which opened this past week. MUAH’s mission “to foster among people an awareness of, and excitement about, Utah art and its history so that they may draw significance and perspective from the past and find purpose for the future” is embodied in their current exhibition. “Wille and Martin Remembered: A Tribute to the Mormon Handcart Pioneers” features thirty-seven works of art by living Utah artists to commemorate the rescue of the two handcart companies trapped in eastern Wyoming in the winter of 1856.
Speaking of the Museum’s upcoming projects, Steadman says, “In November, we'll be hanging some of the paintings featured in the ‘Painters of the Wasatch Mountains’ book, which the museum produced last year. Then we partner with Salt Lake Community College for their President's Art Show. Then we partner with the International Rescue Committee to document in words and photos the lives of immigrants in Utah. Then we have an exhibition with the Chase Home, then the Deseret Morning News/Days of '47 art show.”
Exhibitions aren’t the only thing the Museum and Steadman have planned. “We also have some building projects planned: we've raised about half the money we need to renovate the facade of our building. We're still deciding about the design for the facade, but are anxious to get the outside of the building completed, with a new door, vestibule, better climate control, etc. We also want to renovate our basement space so that we can have double the exhibition space.”
Helping to facilitate planned growth is a recent federal grant from the Institution of Museum and Library Services. It has provided funding for a review of MUAH institutional policies and practices and the development of internal tools to help better manage and plan for the future. “We're completing an exhaustive self-study”, reports Steadman, “which we will submit in March and then have a peer reviewer visit MUAH and create his/her report as to our strengths and weaknesses.”
And what are the strengths and weaknesses of Steadman’s job? What Steadman loves most about her position is what most people in the arts love, “the people and the passion for art.” What she dislikes is what most people in the arts dislike, “lip service for support for the arts, but not taking the next steps: providing the required financial support, legislative support, and volunteer support.”
Support for the arts is a community effort and Steadman is eager to be a continued part of it. “All of us are working together with more established organizations to strengthen the arts, not diminish or subdivide them. Think of what Bob Olpin, Bill Seifrit, and Vern Swanson have done to expand our knowledge about Utah art and artists. Haseltine started much of it. Work is being done today by Donna Poulton and Janie Rogers. We need to keep learning and exploring so we don't forget the past and hopefully we will gather greater support along the way.”
She continues, “I think the Gallery Stroll, collaborative exhibitions, the events in Spring City, Springville Museum of Art, all help fill that role. It can’t be the responsibility of only one venue.” Steadman favors and is excited about recent talk about development of a downtown cultural district. “Bring it on!” she exclaims.
Steadman will continue to do her part by looking to the long and short-term goals of MUAH. “Long term, we need to raise several million dollars to renovate our 127 South Main Building so we have even more gallery, office, and education space. In the short term, I'm hoping to lease out the space to another arts organization for a couple of years.”
While Steadman may be a petite and attractive young woman, dynamite comes in small packages, and she has proved herself to be a heavy hitter - a small pebble making far-reaching waves . Steadman appreciates her position as director of the Museum and loves “being surrounded by great art, great artists, people who are passionate about our state's history, being downtown in a drop-dead gorgeous building, working with a great staff and board, working with wonderful people who know important information about the state's art and history, or who know where to find those people, telling great stories, honoring our heritage, letting out-of-towners know about Utah, networking with others to get exhibitions planned and up.”
The Museum of Utah Art and History is located at 125 South Main Street Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. More information about the organization and its programming can be found at their website: www.muahnet.org
Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Anna Campbell Bliss
by Frank McEntire
Utah is fortunate to have Anna Campbell Bliss, a sophisticated artist who sets a high standard for herself and her colleagues. Bliss, who is 81-years old, recently struggled with macular degeneration, which threatened to completely destroy her sight, and a flood that destroyed much of her studio. Despite these struggles, she is still hard at work developing her ground-breaking computer-generated art. These efforts will be on display this month at Ken Sanders Rare Books, which will be holding an open house and exhibition of her work in conjunction with the publication of Bliss’s new book, “Art for a House of Mathematics.”
Bliss has art history and architecture degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University. While studying architecture at Harvard, Bliss commuted to MIT for courses from painter and photographer Gyorgy Kepes. She continued studies in printing and painting at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis School of Art, during which time she studied with Josef Albers. At the University of Utah, she took computer studies and courses in archaeology, languages and sumie.
Her study with Gyorgy Kepes was a key influence on her intellect and work and she dedicates her new book, “Art for a House of Mathematics,” to him. Her research into architecture inspired a sense of three-dimensionality that helped prepare her for collaborations with architects and commissions for public art. A polished dexterity with technology and mathematics, a keen sense of design and bold use of color, and an endless curiosity about the intersection of science and art provide Bliss with a powerful aesthetic worldview.
Soon after her arrival in Utah, Evans & Sutherland, a visual simulation computer company, worked with Bliss as an invited artist during the early stages of computer-generated image making. Her access to simulation technologies, training in computer code development, and knowledge of other technological and formalistic applications in the arts set a trajectory that continues today. Bliss has been in the forefront of using computers as an art-making tool, although she also does innovative work that does not require high-tech solutions.
For Bliss, application is as important as analysis. She is one of the few artists in the western region of the country who use computer technology almost exclusively in their work. For example, her “Windows,” (1990) an 8’ by 30’ foot alkyd-on-enameled-steel collage installed in the state’s computer building is perhaps the first computer-based, publicly-funded mural in the United States. Other murals include: “The Discoverers,” (1996) an 8’ by 20’ foot computer-based work installed in the city’s airport and recently temporarily de-installed and conserved for her comprehensive retrospective at the Utah Museum of Fine Art in 2004 and “Extended Vision,” (2001) a multifaceted site-specific work that explores the influence of mathematics, cultures, and the arts and marks the University of Utah’s mathematics building with purposefulness. It is this work that inspired the recent publication of “Intersections: The Art of Anna Campbell Bliss” by Katherine Metcalf Nelson as well as “Art for a House of Mathematics,” which is the artist’s own guided tour through the creation of the work.
It is seldom that one comes into contact with a multidisciplinary artist as powerful in intellect and convincing in practice as Anna Campbell Bliss. She has claimed a position of honor as a pioneer in Utah’s and by extension, the nation’s computer arts frontier. Her tireless community service, encouragement of other artists, especially emerging talent, the esteem and recognition from her peers, and the strength of her work, place her firmly in the front pages of Utah’s art history.
A new medical procedure administered at the Moran Eye Center, as well as the removal of cataracts, has helped to restore the artist’s sight, which is now 20-25. She was also the recipient this year of a grant from the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation which will help with her medical needs, the restoration of her studio and the continued production of her art. Examples of her work can be seen this month at Ken Sanders Rare Books. Join the artist at an open house, October 20th from 6 to 9 pm.