Collier got involved with 337 because he believed it could help unite indifferent factions of the artistic community.
“I remember sitting down with two artists who I really valued and asked why they wouldn’t come to an opening at the art center,” he says. “They told me, ‘We know this group might be there, and we don’t want to run into them.’” Collier was floored. How could they squander an opportunity to network? Hadn’t they ever heard of strength in numbers?
With 337, “I wasn’t concerned about its aesthetic merit as much in terms of it coalescing a lot of disparate groups,” he says, adding that people and institutions like Adam Price, Art Access, The Pickle Company and Kayo Gallery are critical to providing common ground for individual artists. The Salt Lake Art Center can’t do it all on its own.
“I think there is a lot of work to be done in this community; I think that it will continue to be if not a struggle, at least a good fight,” he says.
Ben Wiemeyer, who participated in 337 and who will show in Present Tense, has worked as proprietor—ordering, shipping, hanging, lighting, dismantling exhibitions, etc.—at the Salt Lake Art Center for three years. As a member of Salt Lake City’s “underground” or “nontraditional” network of artists (he’s not a fixture at mainstream galleries) and one of nine employees at the center, he enjoys rare insight on both sides of the issue.
“I think it’s a miscommunication and a misinterpretation of intentions,” he says, adding that people who complain to him aren’t just upset with status quo—some are downright bewildered. “A lot of my friends don’t even know about the art center. They don’t know where it is or what it is. That’s frustrating for me.” (FYI: the Salt Lake Art Center is located on 20 S. West Temple, adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center.)
Roni Thomas and Jay Hueman, curator of exhibitions, are also frustrated. They’re not sure when the center suddenly became the big, bad wolf.
“I think we are viewed as the establishment a lot of times by people, which is—well, I don’t understand that,” Thomas says. She believes Present Tense will start to open artists’ eyes to the center, its mission, the hours staff members keep and how they’re really on—or at least very near—the same page. “Typically, there are four of us on any installation who do everything, and now we’re inviting 25 artists into our house to do what they do, so it’s going to be really interesting.”
Wiemeyer is counting on equal effort from the community and artists. “If people are frustrated in the community and they’re frustrated as artists, they need to communicate that. If you’re frustrated, don’t just go running your mouth to your homey—e-mail us. Tell us. Do it anonymously,” he says, laughing and shaking his head. “Just send a letter.”
And if the floodgates open, the center had better be ready to do its part.
“As studio artists, we produce these things, we set them down and we critique them. You might not like what anybody has to say about it, and it might hurt your feelings, but you’re going to go home, sit and digest, and come back that much stronger,” Wiemeyer says. “I think we really need that open communication at the Salt Lake Art Center. As an institution, we need to be able to take that critique and digest it and say, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t working.’”n