When I first visited the Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, I had one of those, "You know, sometimes Utah can be a pretty cool place." moments.
CUAC, run by a group of young artists and curators, has been exhibiting international contemporary art--including Julian Opie, Kerry James Marshall, Jack Smith, Bek Stupak, Xaviera Simmons, Andrea Galvani--120 miles from Salt Lake City in the hinterlands.
Even more amazing, the edgy art, installed in a restored historic building on Main Street, seemed to have been embraced by the local community.
To link the gallery and Ephraim to the Wasatch Front, innovative supporters of CUAC (pronounced "quack") instituted a monthly Art Bus, complete with a rolling video art gallery and beer, to bring art lovers from Salt Lake City and Provo to Ephraim for openings.
CUAC estimates it brought Ephraim 4,000 visitors annually adding $200,000 to its economy. "That's a really significant impact," says Director, artist and curator Adam Bateman, "comparable to the Scandanavian Days Celebration [Ephraim's equivalent of Mardi Gras]."
CUAC also exhibited of local artists and taught art to elementary students.
This story of a rural community in a symbiotic relationship with a cutting-edge art gallery was so cool, it brought tears to my eyes.
What a chump I was. It was only a matter of time before Utah's forces of unelightenment got wind of CUAC's forward-leaning programs that attracted national attention, including a Andy Warhol Foundation grant.
Right: Animation still from CUAC's 'superHUMAN" exhibit.
CUAC will soon be thrown out on its ear. This cultural and economic catastrophe for San Pete County apparently is the result a recent show that featured exposed boobs.
CUAC's board is calling the city's decision blatant censorship. The city council, along with the mayor and city manager judged CUAC's exhibits to be "not San Pete appropriate."
“That the surprise eviction comes at a time when CUAC is exhibiting three photographs which depict women’s breasts in an exhibition that explores racially-based civil injustices is no coincidence,” says Bateman.
It's interesting to note that Jeff Lambson, curator of contemporary art at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, is on CUAC's board and Mark Magleby, director of BYUMOA, has lauded CUAC a key player in a recent increase in appreciation of contemporary art in Utah.
Bateman, who is a county native, says he doubts the eviction is supported by the broader community. "When they said the art wasn't 'San Pete appropriate,' I said, 'I'm from Sanpete County.' This community has greatly surpassed anything that an art venue expects of its audience. The San Pete audience has been receptive and willing to learn and has been appreciative of what we are doing."
CUAC yet to decide its next move. Options include finding a new space in Ephraim or abandoning the county entirely. A move to the Wasatch Front would bring CUAC a larger audience, but Bateman says CUAC would miss its supportive Sanpete audience.
"The plan is to let the dust settle and get some funding on track and listen to some proposals--then we'll know a lot more," Bateman says.
Above right: Julian Opie, "The Ortega Family"