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    March 2009
Page 6    
Haystacks by Edwin Evans, courtesy the Utah Arts Council

Notes for Bob and Bill
Flowers and Feuds Part 3
Surviving the Legislative Response
by Shawn Rossiter

The first part of this history of the early days of the Utah Arts Council appeared in our November 2008 edition.
The second part appeared in our January 2009 edition.


At the end of the internal struggles that disrupted the Utah Art Institute between 1902 and 1904, the "American-trained" camp seemed to be triumphant. They had succeeded in the courts, and now controlled the governing board of the organization. In the fall of 1904, the Institute held its annual exhibition in Ogden, under the direction of Culmer and Ottinger, whose works dominated the exhibition. The "French school" was glaringly absent from the exhibit. The only works by Mary Teasdel or Edwin Evans were ones loaned by collectors. Lee Greene Richards and Alma B. Wright, recently returned from their studies in Europe, did exhibit, and Wright's portrait of "Miss Richards" (Blanche, Hattie Harwood's younger sister) won the prize. The judges -- J. Albert Howell, W.M. Gotwaldt and W. McKell Hughes – who came from outside the Institute, awarded the prize in watercolor to Culmer's "The Forest Path" and recommended Ottinger receive special recognition for his historical pieces.

The American camp's hold on the Insititute was short lived. In 1904, the Republican nomination for governor passed by Heber M. Wells after he lost the favor of the Federal Bunch – the political machine headed by Reed Smoot that controlled the GOP in Utah. The Bunch's new favorite, John C. Culter, won the nomination and then the general election, and in 1905 he replaced all the previous members of the governing board except for S.T. Whitaker. To the board the new governor appointed: J. Leo Fairbanks and A.B. Wright, recently returned from studies in Paris; John Hafen, who had supported Fairbanks and Evans in the controversy of 1903; Mrs. Virginia S. Stephen, an instructor at the University who had worked with Evans on an instruction manual for drawing; and Miss Margaret Keogh, a young artist from Salt Lake. For the rest of the decade the governing board would be dominated by the Paris-trained school of artists. These artists also dominated that year's annual exhibit. J. B. Fairbanks had the largest exhibit of works. A.B. Wright, who won the bronze medal for his miniature of “Miss Q,” exhibited 13 pieces. J. Henri Moser made his debut. Lee Greene Richards and Mahonri Young both exhibited, the latter winning the prize for watercolor. Neither Culmer nor Ottinger exhibited that year, and don't seem to have participated in the Institute exhibits for the rest of the decade. Edwin Evans, one of the artists who had contended for the controversial prize of 1903, received the state prize of $300 fo his "Idlers."

The internal struggles of the Utah Art Institute had played out in the public eye and as a result the organization faced serious legislative threats over the next few years. The first came in 1905, when some members of the legislature, with the support of the Salt Lake Herald, claimed that the taxpayers were not receiving a fair value for their investment and that the Institute was plagued by conflicts of interest. One bill proposed the abolition of the organization, while a compromise bill suggested folding the Alice Art Collection into a state art collection to be housed at the University of Utah. Both bills, however, were squashed by the Senate education committee, and neither came to a vote.

A legislative threat in 1907 was more serious. That year the legislature met in the midst of a recession and a stock market slide that would result in the panic of 1907 that fall. In these unsteady economic times, a bill was once again introduced to completely abolish the organization. The artists met the legislative threat headon and even had the audacity to ask the legislature to increase their appropriation. The previous December the church-owned Deseret News had run a large feature spread on the Utah artists, including reproductions of their works. To this tacit church support of the artists, Joseph F. Smith, President of the church at the time, added the offer of the use of the church-owned Social Hall as a venue for a permanent exhibition of paintings. The excited artists (in the form of the Society of Utah Artists) had immediately embraced the idea, announcing that they planned to remodel the aging building with a façade of Greek-style architecture. Consequently, at the 1907 legislative session they requested an additional appropriation of $1000 of state funds to be combined with the church's $2500 contribution.

With the support of the House speaker, Republican Harry S. Joseph, the bill to abolish the Institute made it out of committee and onto the floor of the House. The threat was serious enough that other organizations in the community came out in public support of the Institute. The faculty at Brigham Young Academy sent an open letter opposing the bill. The Real Estate Board and the Manufacturers and Merchants Association, who had used the Institute's collection of art at their large exposition the previous year and who recognized the economic value art brought to the community, also objected to the bill.

When it came to a vote, despite having been brought forward by the majority Republican party and championed by the party's leader, the bill lost in a 30 to 15 vote (the Social Hall appropriation, however was not made; the Society of Utah Artists continued to lease the building for a time, however; and the LDS church continued to support the idea of a permanent exhibition of art in the city – in 1910 Bisohp C. W. Nibley offered the use of the Vernon Building, where the statewide annual was held that year, as an additional space for a permanent exhibition).

After passing through these legislative rapids, the Utah Art Institute faced relatively calm waters for the rest of the decade; and their example spurred the launching of numerous other enterprises to support the arts. In 1908, Mary Teasdel helped form an Arts and Crafts club, which held weekly meetings and sponsored live models. In 1909, the Commercial club held an exhibit of J.T. Harwood's 24 watercolors of Liberty park scenery. Private individuals and public organizations also continued to use the annual exhibition as an opportunity to give awards of their own, sponsoring prizes in architecture, the decorative arts and fine arts. In 1908, the Springville Museum began offering a $150 prize for the best painting. Some years the total number of award money came close to $1000. The principal prize continued to be the $300 annual purchase award: Lee Greene Richards, Donald Beauregard, and Edwin Evans all received awards in the second half of the decade.

In 1909, legislation approved by the newly elected governor William Spry, increased the number of awards and overall appropriation to be given at the Institute's annual exhibition. It also changed the awarding process. The Governor was charged with canvassing the members of the Institute for their votes on the best work. It may have kept the artists from taking each other to court, but the canvassing system had glitches of its own. In the first year, at the end of a month of canvassing for votes, the third place prize for the best watercolor was still undecided. Harwood and Browning had each having received the same number of votes. The Governor's relatively simple solution was to invite the artists to his office and ask them to draw straws from a broom -- much easier than fighting the issue out in the courts. Harwood won.

In its first decade, the Utah Art Institute, the country's first state-sponsored arts organization, managed to survive the internal frictions resulting from personal rivalries and untested procedures and the external pressures of shifting political opinions and uncertain economic times. Over the following decades it continued to thrive and spur on cultural activity in the state. In the uncertain economic times of the Great Depression it even expanded its role to encompass the literary and performing arts and became known as the Utah Arts Council.

Public Issues
State of the Community
Anecdotes, Interviews and Statistics
by Shawn Rossiter

Everyone wants to know, just how bad is it? And not just on a national level. Locally, they want to know, am I the only one at my wit's end? Are other galleries or artists hurting as bad as me? Is anyone seeing a silver linings in this whole mess?

In our February edition of 15 Bytes we asked artists, art professionals and art lovers to let us know how they are doing in these tough economic times. We've posted the results of this survey on page 9 of this edition (if you haven't responded to the survey and would like to, go to our February edition).

The results of this survey, plus some anecdotal evidence we've picked up along the way and interviews conducted over this past week, will hopefully give us a better idea of how we as a community are doing.

Artists, who may be more used than most to tough economic times, seem to be relatively upbeat about the situation. Though for a majority of our respondents sales were worse in 2008 than in 2007, that majority was slight and twenty percent of those who responded said sales had increased by more than 25%. To deal with the tough economic times artists are making difficult decisions, getting an outside job to supplement income, or even cancelling an exhibition because of the bad market. Many are having to give up or share their studios. Despite this, most artists are still optimistic. Overall, their creative output hasn't suffered during the tough times and the majority say they are excited about the future.

Private businesses may be hit the hardest as they feel the immediate and direct effect of the drop in consumer spending. The private sector of our community has already seen its first casualty of the crises. Wasatch Frame Shop (and gallery) has closed its doors. Owner Bill Barron says he already had plans to move into work with renewable energy, but the economic downturn is what influenced him to make the move now. Others are close to making similar desicions unless landlords will work with them to lower rents during the recovery or they can find a viable partnership to help cover costs.

One gallery owner I talked to said that while the people who normally buy art in order to decorate their homes are taking a wait and see attitude, the true collectors, addicts at heart, are coming in as frequently as before. They may be putting on layaway what previously they would have paid for up front, or they may be looking for smaller, more affordable pieces, but the true art lovers are still coming in for their fix.

This may point to one silver lining in the economic downturn: an aesthetic weeding process. As reported in the national news, now that a lot of new collectors, are losing the fortunes that enabled them to make show-off purchases, many works that used to be out-of-reach for most are finally coming on the market to the true collector. Also, we may see a similar weeding process in artists, separating the dilettantes and hobbyists from the committed professionals. And, as one artist pointed out, with less money to be made, the temptation to copy or sell-out may decrease.

Not all the news in the private sector is bad. Susan Meyer recently opened up a new gallery in Salt Lake City (350 South 200 East #100) -- something that had been in the works before the crises hit. She laughs and says she'd prefer to be doing this expansion in 2011 (i.e. after the recovery), but she is still excited (those familiar Meyer's Park City gallery will recognize Susan's taste in art in the new gallery, but she does plan to introduce new talent at the Salt Lake space).

Most art professionals see the current economic conditions as tough but not insurmountable. Governmental organizations, and the non-profits they help support, are waiting to see what their budgets for the 2009 fiscal year will be. Most organizations are having to make cuts into their programming. Nancy Boskoff, director the Salt Lake Arts Council, says that like all departments in the city their budget has been affected, but not dramatically. They plan not to cut any programs, but there may be fewer services within the programs.

Budget cuts at the Utah Arts Council have been more dramatic. The Arts Council budget is determined by the Utah Legislature, which has a constitutional mandate to balance the state budget. Along with other state agencies, the Arts Council was asked to make cuts at the end of 2008 because revenues were less than had been predicted. And for the 2009 fiscal year state agencies, including the Arts Council, have been asked to make additional cuts of 15%.

At the Utah Cultural Alliance Legislative Forum on March 2, Margaret Hunt, Executive Director of the Utah Arts Council, and Allyson Isom, the Deputy Director at the Department of Community and Culture, were invited to discuss these current budget decisions and how they will impact the cultural community. After overviews of the budget process were presented the Forum entered its question and answer period and the temperature in the room quickly rose. Emotions were high for many of the more than thirty-five people present, most of whom were representing one cultural organization or another. When Salt Lake Magazine writer Dan Nailen blogged about the meeting later that day he titled his article, "When Utah artists eat their own." At one point my five year old "assistant," who wasn't following the conversation but could hear the tone, turned to me and asked "Why is everyone so mad?"

Multiple subjects were brought up but the central issue, and clearest answer to my assistant's question, was: the Folk Arts Program. As Isom and Hunt explained in their remarks, the Legislature asked each state agency to provide various scenarios for how the 15% cuts could be made. One scenario presented by the Arts Council, the one the Legislature is currently considering adopting (no decisions are final until the Legislature ends on March 12th) would eliminate the two staff positions at the Folk Arts Program, a move that some are calling the "dismantling" of the program.

Hunt says that though the staff positions would be cut the program itself would not end. Grant money would still be avialable to various organizations throughout the state. Her definition of the program was not the same as many others in the room, however. When one participant declared "You can't digitize culture. You can't outsource culture . . . You have to have people with a heart and soul who know how to speak," he received a spontaneous outburst of applause.

The staff positions at the Folk Arts program would be cut as a response to a short-term crises, but comments at the Forum and in a subsequent interview indicate that the cuts fit into a long-term goal of finding an outside organization that would take over the role of the Folk Arts Program. This results from a general principal guiding decisions at the Arts Council. In an attempt to slim down the size of the Council and be "better stewards" of tax-payer money, the Arts Council is looking to partner with outside organizations (whether private entities or public-non profits) who could perform some of the functions that have historically been done by the Arts Council.

No outside organization currently exists to fill the role of the Folk Arts Program, however; and many, including former directors of the Utah Arts Council, don't believe the program should be contracted out (see an article here). The general unease felt at the Forum may not have been caused solely by concern for the Folk Arts Program (though that concern was strong and widespread) -- the long-term goal of slimming the Arts Council leaves a number of questions in the minds of cultural advocates and organizations.

The variety of issues raised at the Utah Cultural Alliance Forum go beyond the scope of this article. We do plan to continue the discussion, however, so keep an eye on our blog (www.15bytes.com) -- we hope to have a lengthier discussion of the issue up by March 6. If you have comments about the Utah Arts Council you can post them here.

To comment on the general topic of this article, the state of the community in the current economic crises, go here.

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