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Utah Cultural Celebration Center Displays Works of Women Artists

Apr 08, 2016 11:06AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Rachel Molenda | rmolenda@cityjournals.com

West Valley - While more than half of visual artists are women, a mere 28 percent of female artists were given solo shows throughout the last decade, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

The American Association of University Women of Utah has been stepping up since the 1980s to create space for women artists in the Beehive State to showcase their work.

“The ratio of women to men was very low,” Marylin Shearer, of art venues for women, said about artists in 1981, when its woman-focused art show was first conceived. “The real purpose [of this art show] was to give these women who were wonderful artists and opportunity to show their work.”

The organization’s biannual exhibit has returned to the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley for another year of showing off the talents of Utah women. This year’s theme is “The Universality of Women,” Shearer said.

Seventy-five works of art hang in the Celebration Gallery, each selected by juror Leslie Anderson. Anderson, curator of European, American and Regional art at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, chose from more than 160 artworks submitted for consideration.

“I was examining the technical virtuosity and the technical skill of the artist and the creativity of each piece. And really I found that there was an incredibly diverse offering,” Anderson said of the submitted work.

From watercolors to textiles and sculpture, the exhibit, which opened March 10 and will run through April 19, features a range of talents.

Michael Christensen, visual and performing arts director at the center, said, “Not every visual art exhibition has to be culture with a capital C.”

The purpose of the Utah Cultural Celebration Center “is to respond to community initiatives and help facilitate something for a group of people when they say, ‘Hey we need a place to be able to do the things that we do,’” Christensen said.

While some art exhibits might focus on a particular theme or medium, viewers might be wiser to look beyond subject matter at this show, according to Christensen.

“It makes you look at the exhibition a little bit differently, again, to think about a collective community group of women and how you can come to an understanding of what it might be to be a woman artist and a woman artist here,” Christensen said.

Anderson’s focus on art created before the 1900s draws her attention to the lack of representation of women in the arts during that time. Most artists became such by way of education. Those women who were successful—as much as a woman could be during that time—mostly came by their training because they were the daughter of an artist, Anderson said. 

But curators now are increasingly aware of those disparities in the art world and are taking greater measures to examine their collections and how they can better highlight women artists.

“The job is really to see what we can present in our collection and also kind of tell the story, convey the trials and triumphs of these early women artists,” Anderson said.

The AAUW of Utah’s focus is on empowering women, especially in leadership, Shearer said. The arts are as important to the organization as seeing women take up greater space in science, math and technology. The group also focuses on engaging women in politics and providing scholarships.

“The organization tries in any way they can to support women, show them opportunities that are out there and broaden their opportunities,” Shearer said.

Christensen added that the gallery in West Valley is meant to be a place where someone can “have an arts experience that’s comfortable.”

“All of it is meant to bring an arts experience to people who aren’t going to be able to get downtown, who aren’t going to get up to UMFA for an exhibition for whatever reason,” Christensen said.

The Utah Women Artists Exhibition is free and open to the public during regular gallery hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Special arrangements can be made for alternative hours visits and group tours by visiting www.culturalcelebration.org/exhibits.html. The Utah Cultural Celebration Center is located at 1355 West 3100 South in West Valley City.  

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