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With Doors Closed, UMFA Still Delivers

Posted By Salt Lake County ZAP
March 09, 2016

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As we prepared to temporarily close the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) this year, to upgrade our vapor barrier and reinstall our galleries, we heard one question over and over: But what will the staff do?

The answer: Find ways to fulfill our mission even with the doors closed. Handed a challenge and a gift -- one year to reimagine the UMFA -- our staff of hard-working, passionate arts professionals hasn't wasted a minute.

First we threw a two-day going-away party in January that filled both floors of the Marcia and John Price Museum Building with thousands of people. 

long live art dance party

long live art party gallery visitors

Then we rolled up our sleeves and began chipping away at our ambitious to-do lists. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how we're keeping the fires hot under three of our biggest goals:

Protecting the art.

That's what this project is all about. Improving the vapor barrier will help us maintain the optimal humidity level for fine art. It will also ensure a long lifespan for the architecturally significant building that protects the nearly 20,000 objects in our collection.

Most of the art will be stored onsite. Last fall collections staff members began removing and packing the 200 or so objects on view—painstaking work, some of it tricky. Remember Moab I, the massive relief sculpture in our lobby? Its thirty-six stoneware tiles were carefully removed, individually photographed, assessed, recorded in our database, and then packed into specially made foam-lined wooden crates.

moab 1 de-installation in progress

moab 1 de-installation - all hands on deck

The process is much the same for every object -- which means all hands on deck.

umfa executive director gretchen dietrich helps deinstall robert smithson's leaning mirror

conservator robyn haynie leads art-handling training for staff and volunteers

jazmin gallegos - education and engagement intern - helps deinstall tony fehers site-specific installation they arrived yesterday dusty and weary from the journey but in good spirits

haynie uses a special hepa-filtered vacuum to perform routine cleaning on a painting removed from the european galleries

Keeping the community engaged. 

We’re still delivering great art experiences to our adult and family audiences. The UMFA’s ingenious and award-winning educators have figured out ways to make many programs portable. Our perennial favorite (and ZAP-funded!) Third Saturday for Families free art-making program is continuing every month, just a few doors down at the U’s Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts & Education Complex. Our pARTnersprogram, which has brought every fourth-grader in Salt Lake City public schools into  the UMFA twice each year for more than thirty years, is now being delivered directly to student classrooms. The Traveling Museum Project, Museum in the Classroom, and other outreach programs continue to bring hands-on art experiences to communities in every corner of the state. Our Spiral Jetty Family Backpacks can now be checked out (free!) at the Salt Lake City Public Library. 

logan meyers, partners coordinator, helped modify this vital program to bring an authentic museum experience directly to fourth-grade classrooms

students enjoy the museum experience in their own classroom

child takes in the spiral jetty with a umfa family backpack on his back

We’ve also kicked off two new programs.

  • ARTLandish: Land Art, Landscape, and the Environment is an exciting monthly series of talks, films, meet-ups, and more that explore our complex relationship with the world around us.
  • ACME Sessions, a partnership with The City Library, are bimonthly public roundtable discussions meant to inspire new models of education and community engagement through art. (We’re cooking up other exciting projects with The City Library. More on that soon!) We expect these conversations to generate ideas for an exciting new experimental space we’ll launch when the UMFA reopens, the ACME Lab.

Preparing brand new experiences for visitors in 2017.

The upside of watching the galleries empty is anticipating what they’ll look and feel like next year. Curators are busy planning our new European, American, regional, Asian, African, and modern and contemporary galleries, rediscovering treasures in our vast collection and rethinking how we present them. We’re remodeling other spaces, too, all with an eye toward making the Museum more accessible and welcoming to everyone. Not least among the many decisions to make: what colors to paint the walls. Goodbye, guava! 

preparator aaron hardy creates swatches for staff to consider in selecting the new wall color for the great hall

long live art gallery visitors saying see you later to the museum

That’s where we are, barely two months into this metamorphic year. Keep up, and enjoy more behind-the-scenes photos and stories, by signing up for our e-newsletter or following us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

-Mindy Wilson

Mindy Wilson is the PR & marketing director at the UMFA. She joined the Museum staff in January 2013 after relocating to Salt Lake City from Georgia, where she was managing editor of the award-winning literary journal The Georgia Review. A freelance editor and writer, she loves exploring her new home city, state, and region with her husband, writer Michael Mejia, and Atticus, their Jack Russell terrier.