Regulars and Shorts

Man from UMOCA: Kristian Anderson on community engagement, the challenges of modern art and those hotel rumors

By Staff

Contemporary art is another way that a community can celebrate its identity while also challenging itself to confront uncomfortable topics,” says Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) Director Kristian Anderson. Anderson, who has led the 85-year-old organization for the past two years, sees UMOCA as “a place for community dialogue, anchored in exceptional art, around topics that are especially salient to Utah.” For Anderson, modern art is not only extremely relevant but also incredibly personal: It represents issues we see, hear and talk about daily while, at its best, provoking a discussion and making us think.

A quick history lesson on the organization itself. What Salt Lakers now know as UMOCA began in 1931 as the humble Art Barn, an association intent on supporting emerging artists. By 1958, the Art Barn had expanded its original mission and was serving as Utah’s only contemporary art institute while emphasizing community engagement, a transformation which prompted it to be renamed the Salt Lake Art Center.

In 2011, the museum once again underwent a name change as SLAC evolved into UMOCA. Over the years, UMOCA has continued to exhibit thought-provoking art while offering community programming through workshops, artist residencies and the art truck, a traveling art exhibit which bringx creativity to students while making contemporary art accessible.

Accessibility has long plagued contemporary art – a piece of furniture? A black line on a white canvas? – and Anderson does acknowledge that contemporary art can be challenging, even intimidating, for viewers. It’s a frustrating reality he attributes to “a system where people feel like there are right and wrong experiences when it comes to enjoying art.” Through programs aimed at youth, underserved groups and the general public, Anderson hopes to break down that system by showing viewers that their experience is legitimate while digging more into the background behind a piece.

Soon, however, UMOCA may have to face hurdles beyond accessibility. In 1979, UMOCA moved into its current facility, an art center designed by the Salt Lake architectural firm of FFKR Architects/Planners. UMOCA is situated next to the Salt Palace Convention Center and there has been recent discussion that it may be repurposed in order to provide hotel rooms for the convention center – which would leave UMOCA in need of a new home. According to Anderson, there are both pros and cons to this potential move: the current facility was designed as an art center, not a contemporary art museum, and a new facility might better meet those needs. However, moving UMOCA would upset the history and continuity of what is “a great part of the tapestry of Salt Lake City.”

Either way, Anderson thinks there are good reasons to be excited for whatever comes next. He is proud of UMOCA and the hard efforts of his staff and believe that “UMOCA is an institution known for creating excellent exhibitions, relevant programs and, most important, for being a museum that is not afraid to take risks and push our community have dialogue on challenging issues.”

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art

20 S West Temple, SLC

Suggested donation $5

Tues-Thurs 22am-6pm; Fri 11am-9pm; Sat 11am-6pm; closed Sun & Mon


This article was originally published on August 1, 2016.