After calling American Fork home for 18 years, the Utah Pageant of the Arts is moving to Salt Lake City.

David R. Richards, pageant chairman, announced Wednesday that the Pageant will stage its 1991 performance at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City. The pageant's headquarters and workshop will remain in Utah County, Richards said.The Pageant, which re-creates paintings, sculptures and other pieces of art using sets and live models, has battled financial problems and an inadequate facility for years. Two years ago, the pageant seemed on the brink of collapse. It was about $75,000 in debt, was burdened by a lease on the old high school building it used to store pageant props and was involved in a dispute with the Alpine School District over rent owed for the use of American Fork High School auditorium.

The move to Salt Lake is bittersweet, according to some board members. "I think it is a good move ahead and into a new theater, but I really hate to leave American Fork," said Betty Spencer, the pageant's marketing director.

Financial problems forced the pageant to eliminate or streamline involvement with associated arts programs. It dropped, for example, sponsorship of a city orchestra, a ballet, modern dance group and theater production. And the pageant was forced to rely heavily on presentations used in previous years to save money. The pageant also began heavy fund-raising efforts to help wipe out debts.

The moves helped: Bills from the 1990 production are still trickling in, but Richards said the pageant will break even this year.

Still, the firmer financial footing has not wiped out production problems associated with the auditorium at American Fork High School. Pageant officials realized the difference a professionally equipped facility makes when they put on a 10-day production this year at Ricks College, Richards said.

"It confirmed our suspicions about what we were going through" to put the pageant on at American Fork High School, he said.

The Capitol Theatre is equipped with "flies" areas above the stage that can be used to store and move set pieces, seats more people and is within walking distance of Salt Lake's major hotels. Also, the theater will supply five stage technicians to aid pageant officials during performances.

In addition to the physical attributes of the Capitol Theatre, the Salt Lake location will be more convenient for audiences - in the past 60 percent of the pageant audience has come from the Salt Lake and Bountiful areas, Richards said.

However, the move will require the pageant to drop sponsorship of a youth and professional art exhibit and a scholarship competition.

The 11-member pageant board unanimously approved the decision to locate in Salt Lake City, Richards said.

The pageant will present 20 performances at the Capitol Theatre beginning June 7. Richards said the pageant board also wants to present the show in American Fork for a week to 10 days in conjunction with Steel Days - provided it can arrange to use the high school. And, pageant officials are discussing taking the show to Ricks again as well as to St. George.

"Had it not been for the American Fork council working with the pageant, we would have folded," Spencer said.

The city council gave the pageant $40,000 in matching funds over two years, and at one time considered acquiring the organization.

"I think the citizens have gotten their money out of what they put in there," said Mayor B. Kay Hutchings. "I don't feel bad about the money invested . . . It is in the best interest of the pageant to do some of those things. I hope they can be successful up there."