Letter from the Director: Arts Belong in the Cultural Core of Our Downtown

Utah Museum of Contemporary (left) and Abravanel Hall (right) being constructed as part of the Bicentennial Arts Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1978, News Service Photo

Dear artists, patrons, donors, educators, students, and UMOCA supporters,

As many of you have likely heard, big changes are coming to downtown Salt Lake City with the development of a new entertainment district, which directly impacts both UMOCA and Abravanel Hall. As director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, I know that while change can bring uncertainty, it also comes with opportunity. And change for downtown Salt Lake City shouldn’t come at the expense of arts and culture. 

As the city sets forth a new vision for the future, UMOCA must build on our history as a critical part of our vibrant downtown experience. Throughout these past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about our history.

  • Exactly fifty years ago in 1974, the Salt Lake Art Center and the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera were selected to be part of a proposed Bicentennial Arts Complex Project to be built downtown, funded entirely by Salt Lake County and the Utah State Legislature. We now know these buildings as the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and Abravanel Hall.
  • Legislators’ decision to center arts and culture in downtown Salt Lake was both visionary and transformative for our city, leading to decades of musicians, artists, writers, thinkers, composers, patrons, makers, and so many students experiencing the cultural richness of our state.
  • Today, fifty years later, we stand at the precipice of another crossroads with a once-in-a-generation opportunity before us. As part of the revitalization of downtown Salt Lake City, the Bicentennial Arts Complex stands to be torn down and the arts organizations relocated.
Utah Museum of Contemporary (left) and Abravanel Hall (right) as part of the Bicentennial Arts Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979

As a leader of one of these foundational organizations with a 93-year history, I see this change as disruptive and unsettling while I share in the excitement of possibility for growth. As an organization, we’re holding these two tensions and want our patrons, artists, and partners to know three things as downtown plans progress:

  • UMOCA will continue our long legacy of advancing culture in Utah. We believe in the power of the art of our time and have a long history of programming, collaboration, and education. We are deeply passionate about the decades of work our organization has done with the community and will continue to serve the next generation of Utahns.
  • We are cautiously optimistic about this opportunity to reimagine the downtown experience and are open to the initial vision set by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, and Jazz and NHL teams owner Ryan Smith, whose joint statement proposed that “the downtown experience will serve as the state’s anchor for arts, culture, sports, and entertainment.”
  • We are eager to collaborate with the Utah State Legislature, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Governor Cox, and Smith Entertainment Group to explore possibilities for UMOCA that allow us to remain among downtown’s cultural and entertainment offerings.

We are cautiously optimistic about this opportunity to reimagine the downtown experience and are open to the initial vision set by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, and Jazz and NHL teams owner Ryan Smith, whose joint statement proposed that “the downtown experience will serve as the state’s anchor for arts, culture, sports, and entertainment.”

  • We are ready and eager to collaborate with the Utah State Legislature, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Governor Cox, and Smith Entertainment Group to explore possibilities for UMOCA that allow us to remain among downtown’s cultural and entertainment offerings.

This moment requires two basic tenets: arts belong in the cultural core of our downtown, and investment in the arts is a shared responsibility of all partners. The current vision of downtown includes allocation of monies for a new entertainment district and an updated arena but has yet to specifically allocate funding for displacement of UMOCA and Abravanel Hall. As they did fifty years ago, the reimagining and shaping of a city for the next generation requires resources and investment in the future of the arts.  

Architectural rendering of future Utah Museum of Contemporary as part of the Bicentennial Arts Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1977

As partners with government entities, businesses, and the many philanthropists who make our work possible, we believe the future of a downtown arts scene can be secured with creative thinking, problem-solving, and multiple forms of public investment.

We are open to collaboration and call on our leaders and decision-makers to understand the commitment and financial investment needed to revitalize the arts in downtown Salt Lake City. As our organization moves into the next stage of its evolution, your support, investment, and commitment to UMOCA matters more than ever.

We look forward to engaging in the coming months as our organization takes on the herculean task of reimagining a new building and new location.

Signed,

Laura Allred Hurtado

Executive Director

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art

Utah Museum of Contemporary (left) and Abravanel Hall (right) as part of the Bicentennial Arts Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979