Utah County’s Art Galleries and Museums Feature Artists with Diverse Perspectives
Various art galleries and museums in Utah County have begun hosting art exhibits featuring local artists from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
This increase of amplifying the voice of certain communities is fashionable in recent years in Utah, and may be reflected in cities like Provo, Orem and Springville.
However, the figures show that there is still a problem of diversity in the state of the hive, and according to a WalletHub.com Analysis 2021Provo stood out as the least diverse city in the United States out of the 501 American cities included in the survey.
Although to research believes that Utah will continue to diversify over the next 40 years, community efforts to share the voices of underrepresented artists can promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural dialogue, which would pave the way for new artists to diverse backgrounds.
“Art can help create a safe, belonging space,” said Brad Kramer, owner of Provo-based gallery Writ and Vision. “It can also help create a context for important discussions and conversations about things we don’t talk about enough that need to be addressed.”
Marlena Wilding, Leslie Espino and Jessie Payne are just a few of the Utah County artists who are using their talent and diverse background to tell stories and start conversations about less discussed topics.
Growing as a Black Woman in the Church
Originally from Utah Marlena Wilding said she always knew she wanted to be an artist, which led her to apply to BYU’s art program.
Early in college, she realized she was the only black artist in the program that year and took it upon herself to study and express her own identity through her art.
Wilding explained how during her college experience she created pieces that depicted her experience as a black woman growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, where Church members are predominantly white.
Even though she felt like people who saw her art didn’t always understand or relate to her perspective and experiences, she continued her work.
“People in Utah are more open to different perspectives than when I was in college around 2013,” Wilding said.
Wilding’s works were exhibited at the Writ and Vision Gallery in March 2022, where she presented her exhibition titled “Perspectives on Light and Dark”, a look at the concept of darkness in scripture.
“In religion and scripture, ‘darkness’ is called evil or bad, and ‘righteous’ or ‘white’ are conversely synonymous with purity,” Wilding said. “My art shows that there is a misunderstanding of the concept of ‘darkness’ in scripture, which may contribute to causing subconscious racial division in America.”
NASA environmental scientist Leslie Espino was among the group of people who decided to take up a new hobby during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained in March 2020 that she started looking for a creative outlet that would feel like a safe space when she wasn’t working.
Espino decided to start creating art, and she began to explore and learn how to use the necessary materials.
During the apprenticeship period, Espino said her background in environmental science made her more aware of the many materials that would go to waste as she made rookie mistakes.
“I felt so bad about all the waste after the mistakes I made when I was just learning,” Espino said. “I had a pile of wrong paints and didn’t want them to go to waste, so over time I started to see the materials as something I could reuse.”
This idea led to the creation of his Instagram art accountwhere she exhibits her pieces made with reused materials, and where she shares tips on how to be artistic and take care of the environment at the same time.
“I really like the challenge of forcing myself to open up that perspective and see the materials in a different way,” Espino said.
Ukrainian artists tell Soviet stories
Rita Wright, director of the Springville Museum of Art, and Emily Larsen, associate director, explained how they wanted showcase of Ukrainian painters in light of the war conflict between Ukraine and Russia. They decided to hang up some and post them on social media.
“These are paintings of everyday life that artists were drawn into to show an idealized view of the Soviet Union,” Larsen said. “However, having these paintings gives viewers a different perspective, and it helps to make connections between what happened then and the conflict Ukrainians are experiencing now.”
Regarding how the Springville Museum of Art obtained the artwork, Wright explained that when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, advisers from Utah were invited to Ukraine to help improve their economy.
When they were in the country, they noticed that there were many Ukrainian artists previously employed by the Soviet government, who were trying to sell their art as a last resource to survive.
“It turned out to be a difficult task, as Ukrainian citizens did not want to buy Soviet propaganda artwork,” Wright said. “And so the councilors in Utah bought a lot of them and brought some of the nicer ones to the Springville Museum of Art.”
As a result, the Springville Museum of Art has a collection of more than 300 paintings by Ukrainian artists, according to Wright and Larsen.
“People’s reaction to our posting about these paintings so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” Wright said. “As human beings, we can find connections between different artists, emotions and realities, even though there are many things that divide us.”
Love and inclusion in religion
Similar to Espino’s experience, Jessie Payne began her Instagram account dedicated to art during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She explained how art became a way to deal with things that worried her, especially with God and religion.
Payne, who identifies as a non-denominational Christian, said she uses her platform to show “God’s immense ability to love and encourage inclusion and compassion”. She said it became a way for her to reflect on her questions about God and religion.
“Through art, I have learned so much about divine ways of recognizing God,” Payne said.