FROM THE PINNACLE of 90 years' accomplishment, the Utah Division of Fine Arts, more commonly known as the Utah Arts Council, looks back on a climb that has seen many footholds and handholds established, and despite temporary setbacks, a steady, sometimes spectacular ascent.

The first 90 years have not been unalloyed sweetness and light, just as the next 90 will probably see many a struggle. But the Arts Council has played an increasingly prominent role in finding more money, strengthening companies, and reflecting respect and even glory upon Utah arts.Particularly during the past quarter-century, artistic roots put down during a hundred-plus years of Utah culture have born abundant fruit; and the arts public has become willing to expend significant money, both through donation and taxation, to see, hear and be instructed by the fine orchestra, dance companies, theater programs and museums that have sprung up in its midst.

Tour, if you will, a small gallery of windows in time. Pay visits to artistic Utah in years that mostly end in -9, to show how the Utah Arts Council began, and how it evolved to its present stature.

1899 - In the last year of the 19th century, on the final day of the state's third legislative session (March 9), the Utah House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 86, thus creating the nation's first state arts agency.

Authored by Alice Merrill Horne, the bill created the Utah Art Institute and provided a $2,000 biennial appropriation to "advance the interests of the fine arts, develop the influence of art in education, and to foster the introduction of art in manufactures." (The latter to appease the southern part of the state, where silk production was being undertaken.) A board of seven members was specified.

Born in Fillmore in 1868, Alice Merrill showed facility early in organizing, both of youth and arts groups. She graduated from the University of Deseret as valedictorian in 1887 and was the only woman Democrat in the campaign of 1898, winning her seat in the House by 1,000 votes.

Horne focused on visual art. Hence SB86 called for annual art exhibits (not to be held in the same city twice in succession) and for a collection of art to be purchased by the state and exhibited statewide. (The state's Alice Art Collection now numbers more than 1,200 pieces; and one proposed use of the Union Pacific Building, offered to the state, is to house the collection.)

Then as now, great programs grew up around great people, and Alice Horne had an exhilarating effect upon art in Utah. She wrote a text for art study in the public schools. She loaned her private collection to secondary schools, and through her purchase program (10 cents from each pupil) many schools began art collections. She spearheaded a fund to buy 24 paintings by Harwood, still owned by West High School. She arranged 120 art exhibitions in 40 different schools in Utah.

1929 - During the teens and '20s of the century, arts support languished, though authorization for the Utah Art Institute remained. Up to 1910, appropriations had remained generous, but from 1911-34 the Utah Art Institute received a total of only $4,000, and the Depression put an end to all arts appropriations for five years. Still, the volunteer board of seven members functioned; people continued to sing, acted at the Salt Lake Theater, painted, and studied dance at the University of Utah.

1939 - The second annual conference of the Utah State Institute of Fine Arts (as the agency was now known) was held in Salt Lake City, and among other things, called for statewide arts programs.

Happy days were coming again, thanks to the federal Works Prog-ress Administration's presence in Utah, where it became a catalyst for the arts. The WPA's Utah Art Proj-ect was established in 1937, with Elzy J. Bird as director. Reginald Beales and Dale L. Morgan headed similar music and writers' projects.

In 1938, Gov. Henry H. Blood appropriated $2,500 in unexpended funds to be used, along with private funds, to remodel the Elks Club at 58 S. State into a state arts center. Operating expenses were provided by the institute and trained personnel and artists by the WPA.

Establishing branches of the Utah Arts Center about the state, the agency was "prepared to furnish a community with a variety of services: exhibits of both classic and modern works of art, lectures, literature, classes in arts and crafts, and musical programs."

In 1939 the Legislature appropriated $4,000 to the institute for 1940-41, and in his biennial report to Gov. Herbert B. Maw, director Gail Martin stressed that through the WPA, without cost to the state, 120 people earned $152,746, through employment in the three cultural programs.

More than 200,000 attended the main center and its branches from July 1939 to 1940. Art classes flourished as did a speech arts department that produced radio programs, plays and children's theatricals. The writers' project led to publication of "Utah - a Guide to the State."

The milestone WPA Orchestra was formed in January 1935, and from then until 1940, gave 1,012 concerts to 348,000 listeners. In May 1940, the Utah State Symphony Orchestra first performed. A 1940-41 season was planned, and a membership campaign collected $10,000. The Utah Symphony was born.

Funds for 1942-43 were $14,000, people still loved the arts, everything was in place, but World War II intervened; and the arts, like all other non-essentials, fell by the wayside.

1949 - Recognizing the necessity of a strong symphonic base for the performing arts, the Institute of Fine Arts channeled all its appropriation ($10,000 annually) to the Utah Symphony for many years, and the institute's board was the same as the symphony board. Maurice Abravanel was firmly entrenched on the podium of Utah's fledgling orchestra, having come in 1947.

1959 - Willam Christensen was now in Utah, beginning to stage professional ballet, and the needs of a second major performing arts organization must be accommodated. The institute's appropriation this year was $17,500.

1969 - Big changes occurred during this decade, with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1966. Block grants were available to any state that had a state arts agency in place to administer funds, and Utah was ready. For the first time, the institute employed a salaried director (Wilburn C. West) and secretary, and its name was changed to the Division of Fine Arts, under the Utah Department of Development Services.

The building of Pioneer Memorial Theatre (1962), establishment of the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City (1961), and the formation of the Repertory Dance Theatre (1966) all served notice that expansion of the base of assistance was needed. Utah provided an $83,000 legislative appropriation to the arts, supported by federal endowment funds and individual donations. The time of the matching grant arrived, whereby arts organizations must come up with equal funds (sometimes three or four times as much) to receive state/national assistance.

1975 - In the year of the nation's Bicentennial, Utahns established and funded the Bicentennial Arts Complex, including Symphony Hall, the renovated Capitol Theater and the Salt Lake Art Center. The old Glendinning home at 617 E. South Temple became permanent headquarters for the Utah Arts Council, with Ruth Draper as executive director. Arts in education and artists in schools became top priorities of the council, taking arts to every town and hamlet in the state. Establishment of local arts councils was encouraged. (Thirty-eight are now functioning.) The state granted the UAC $282,300 in 1975, which with federal block grants made $505,700 available to Utah arts.

1989 : Ups and downs aplenty during the past 15 years have included deep budget and program cuts, both state and federal, due to economic downturns and deficits. Nevertheless, in 1989 the Legislature allotted $1,602,700 to the Arts Council. With NEA funds of $469,450 and matching funds of $127,500, the agency's budget in support of Utah arts comes to $2,236,863. In addition, a state appropriation of $614,500 goes directly to the Utah Board of Education to fund Utah Symphony, Ballet West and Utah Opera programs in the schools.

Carol Nixon, appointed in 1985, continues as executive director. Her staff has grown to 19, and the board consists of 13 members. Matching grants are aimed at making communities and arts organizations increasingly self-sufficient. Through the Utah Performing Arts Tour, the council supports statewide presentation of high-quality professional music, theater, dance and other arts; attention to visual arts, which suffered for awhile in favor of the lively arts, has been increased, and literary competitions draw many entrants.