In 2014, the Arts section of the Deseret News ran an 11-story series featuring arts organizations throughout Utah. Each organization contributes to Utah's arts scene in a unique and important way by providing the community with music, theater, education, dance and other forms of art and enrichment. Following is an overview of the series with excerpts from each story.
“I think (Leonardo) da Vinci kind of embodies, really, this idea that we as humans are not compartmentalized our lives touch everything,” said Alexandra Hesse, executive director for The Leonardo, referring to the thinking behind the museum's name.
The museum, located in downtown Salt Lake City, first opened temporarily in 2005, and in 2008 hosted "Body Worlds" before it even had a lease on its current building. It opened to the public permanently on Oct. 8, 2011.
Rather than focus directly on either the arts or the sciences, The Leonardo presents them together and encourages visitors to merge them in their individual pursuits.
The museum offers many hands-on activities that come in the form of interactive exhibits and labs.
The Leonardo also features several different kinds of exhibits; some are developed and created by the museum while others, such as "Dead Sea Scrolls" earlier this year, are traveling exhibits.
Along with its labs and exhibits, The Leonardo offers a lecture series, film series, book club and other special programming and events.
The museum also has an educational outreach program, “Leo on Wheels,” that has been traveling for eight years, predating the opening of the museum, Hesse said. The program, which travels to middle schools, focuses on science education by providing students with hands-on experiences that tie to the schools’ core curriculum.
The Leonardo's directors plan to continue offering valuable experiences and fostering inspiration within the community.
“I think the reason to come is to find something,” Hesse said. “There’s something here that’s going to inspire you.”
The Utah Symphony delivers a “shower of sounds” each night it performs at Abravanel Hall, according to the symphony’s music director, Thierry Fischer.
It’s something the organization has been doing for 74 years as the symphony continues to be a deeply rooted fixture in Utah’s cultural community through a variety of performances and educational programs
“It’s a cultural anchor in many ways,” said Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of Utah Symphony and Utah Opera. “It’s all about excellence in building the orchestra to be the best it can be, and excellence is driving the vision.”
Founded in 1940 as the Utah State Symphony Orchestra, the Utah Symphony gained global recognition during Maurice Abravanel’s 32-year tenure as music director. The symphony went on numerous national and four international tours, released more than 100 recordings and became a nationally ranked musical organization all while Abravanel was at the helm of the orchestra. Included in those 100 recordings were all nine of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, a feat that is being celebrated during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with a Mahler symphony cycle to celebrate the symphony’s 75th anniversary.
Fischer and Tourangeau both expressed excitement for the symphony’s future, which they said will include further extending the symphony’s reach. Goals include national and international tours and building the organization to be one of the top 12 symphonies in the country as it was during the Abravanel years.
“A lot of our players before had a great legacy and built the story with Maurice Abravanel back in the day, and now the next generation is coming forward,” Tourangeau said. “To be doing that in tandem with our 75th anniversary and Thierry’s leadership is really exciting.”
Salt Lake Gallery Stroll
From watercolors to ceramics and from contemporary Utah to 17th-century European artists, the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll offers it all in one night, and a person doesn’t need to be an art expert to enjoy the variety.
“It’s a very unobtrusive way to introduce yourself to art,” said Laura Durham, marketing and public value director for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. “You don’t have to take a class. You don’t have to go to a big fancy opening — you can just walk in.”
The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is a monthly event where galleries throughout the city open their doors and invite the community in to “be a part of art,” as the organization’s tagline states. Taking place on the third Friday of each month with the exception of December, the stroll provides accessibility to visual arts by educating patrons and providing increased levels of interaction with the art.
One of the main features of the gallery stroll is the frequent presence of the artists during the stroll, which gives patrons the opportunity to learn and understand straight from the source.
With over 40 possible venues participating in each three-hour, monthly event, the gallery stroll might seem more like an overwhelming art marathon.
Karen Horne, artist and owner of Horne Fine Art, recommends planning ahead and selecting a small group of galleries to visit.
“It’s important to look over the list and pick a couple that catch your imagination somehow,” she said. “For the regular people who make the gallery stroll a regular practice, pick a venue or two that you haven’t been to before, just to broaden your experience.”
“(Ballet) doesn’t require a synopsis,” said Scott Altman, executive director of Ballet West. “You experience it.”
Ballet West has been providing such experiences for 50 years. Willam F. Christensen founded Ballet West in 1963 and became the company's first artistic director.
“He brought in ballet from around the world and different styles of dance and started very quickly establishing Ballet West as an eclectic artistic organization,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director for Ballet West.
Ballet West has had five artistic directors during its 50 years, and each has offered something new to the organization.
The company builds its legacy in the community through three different levels within the organization: the main company, Ballet West II and the Ballet West Academy.
Its robust education and outreach program provides more than 100,000 children each year with the opportunity to get a taste of ballet.
Sklute said the company is exploring new programming, residency programs, further expansion of its academy and more.
Ballet West is set to continue its outreach to other communities through touring. It recently returned to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to perform its production of "The Nutcracker." Its local performances of the holiday production are scheduled to continue through Dec. 31, and Sklute hopes they will lead audiences to see more of what Ballet West has to offer.
"I hope and I would love to see more people who enjoy 'The Nutcracker' come and see other aspects of our productions," Sklute said.
Ballet West celebrated the long-awaited grand opening of its new home, the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre, on Dec. 5. The building includes five new studios, administrative and artistic offices and space for the costume shop, all under one roof for the first time.
For 53 years, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has brought Shakespeare’s works to residents and visitors of Cedar City, Utah, with the hope that his plays will continue to teach life lessons. With his plays as a base, the organization also seeks to create a varied experience by providing additional plays and learning opportunities.
With each season, a staff of about 35 people jumps to approximately 300 administrators, actors, directors and more. An almost tangible energy is in the air as they busily prepare for the last week in June when the opening performances begin.
“I don’t think people realize how far-reaching this Shakespeare festival is in terms of how many top-notch people in this industry are excited and clamoring to work down here in southern Utah at this organization,” said Fred C. Adams, founder of the festival.
Shakespeare’s works may be considered classics, but that doesn’t mean they are always popular. One of the organization’s primary missions is to help as many people as possible understand the meaning behind Shakespeare’s writings.
“There’s something that happens when you have a positive Shakespeare theater experience,” said education director Michael Bahr.
The organization runs several education programs to create these positive experiences and also offers teacher training and an annual high school competition that provides students with the opportunity to perform and learn about Shakespeare plays through workshops and seminars.
In addition to the Shakespeare plays from which the festival derives its name, the organization also hosts musicals and plays by other playwrights each season. It also offers many other elements and activities geared toward cultivating understanding for the Shakespearean culture, including play orientations, seminars, backstage tours and the Greenshow.
The organization broke ground on March 27 for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts. The new facility is set to open in 2016, the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death.
Festival organizers also plan to eventually expand the festival's season and create more of a year-round program to provide more people with the opportunity to experience the festival.
“You’ll have the opportunity to see more plays and more offerings in the coming years,” said executive director R. Scott Phillips.
Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre
Whether through its roughly one-month-long performance season each summer or through its youth educational programs, Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre constantly seeks to bridge the gap between viewers and professional performers and give everyone the chance to learn through the performing arts.
“Bringing the two sides of the curtain together is quite a magical experience,” said Karen Keltner, who has conducted the orchestra for festival performances for 18 years.
Those involved with UFOMT, which performed its first season in 1993, fully expect that the opportunities it provides will have a profound effect, as reflected in its mission statement: “Bringing people together to share ennobling artistic experiences.”
Michael Ballam, the festival’s founder, noted that the word “ennobling” was not included flippantly.
“It means that we will only produce works that will make you a better person when you leave than when you came in,” he said.
To create programming that resonates, the festival offers over 125 events throughout its festival season each summer. On top of the operas and musicals, hands-on classes presented by the Utah Festival Academy further create meaningful connections between the viewers and the performances.
Among the opportunities it provides to foster growth and achievement throughout the state are the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards, which gives recognition to high school actors, and Opera by Children, through which UFOMT sends mentors to participating classrooms to help students create their own opera.
And whether it’s with students in a classroom, patrons at the festival’s classes or professionals on the stage, building an artistic community is what the UFOMT is all about.
A patron’s first time attending a ballet, a powerhouse performance of “Wicked,” a chance to see famous mime Marcel Marceau take the stage — it’s 101 years of moments such as these that have turned the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre into one of Utah’s most recognizable artistic landmarks.
“When you come to the theater, it’s for something exciting,” said Cami Munk, Salt Lake County Center for the Arts communication manager. “It’s a memory-builder.”
Capitol Theatre, originally known as the Orpheum Theater, opened its doors on Aug. 2, 1913. Over the years, the theater fell into disrepair, and in 1975 the Capitol Theatre received a needed boost when a bond was passed that allowed for the theater to be renovated and turned into the performing arts center it is known as today, according to SLCCA.
In May 2013, SLCCA and Ballet West announced a $32 million project to renovate Capitol Theatre and build the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre next to the theater.
The Capitol Theatre was closed for several months as auditorium seats were reupholstered, aisle lighting was replaced, acoustics were improved and more. The theater reopened for its first public performance on Dec. 6, 2013. Additional renovations occurred after the reopening as part of the construction for the ballet center, including expanding the theater’s lobby into the new building, thereby increasing space and access to restrooms.
“Capitol Theatre is one of the gems of not only Salt Lake City but of Utah,” said Melinda Cavallaro, associate division director for SLCCA. “It’s just something we need to value in the years to come.”
Ririe Woodbury Dance Company
Since its creation in 1964, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company has continued to promote its philosophy that “dance is for everybody.” Giving back and sharing dance are among the contemporary dance company's primary goals.
Daniel Charon, the company’s artistic director, believes this is happening today through what he described as a two-fold mission: to educate as many people as possible about the art and to present thought-provoking contemporary dance choreography from around the world.
It was in 1972, according to the organization’s website, that the company’s education programs were able to really take off and grow when Ririe-Woodbury was selected as one of 20 dance companies in the nation to participate in the Dance Touring Program and Artists in the Schools Program.
More than 40 years later, Ririe-Woodbury’s education programs have blossomed into a variety of offerings that continue to reach thousands of individuals each year.
The company reported that it reached 19 school districts, 113 schools and 34,303 students during the 2013-14 school year through its education outreach programs.
In addition to educating others about dance, Ririe-Woodbury members hope to make the art form accessible by making it about things going on today.
“Often art is reflecting what’s going on in society, so it’s a really important way to create dialogue and conversation around issues that are happening around the world,” Charon said.
Ririe-Woodbury celebrated its 50th anniversary last season, which Charon said served as a reminder of the enduring foundation the company is building upon today.
“We’re a contemporary dance company, so our mission is really to keep generating and keep encouraging brand-new work,” he said. “We’re continually reconsidering and reinvestigating ways to present dance.”
Repertory Dance Theatre
It was December 1965 when the Rockefeller Foundation called Linda C. Smith to say it was looking to fund a dance company in Utah and wanted to interview her to be a part of it.
“I thought it was a prank call,” Smith said. “It was a dream come true.”
Seven months after the phone call, Smith joined with seven other dancers to become a founding member of Repertory Dance Theatre — a modern dance company in Salt Lake City.
Almost 50 years later, RDT is still a thriving dance company “dedicated to the creation, performance, perpetuation and appreciation of modern dance,” according to the company’s mission statement.
Approximately 150 choreographers and 100 company members have passed through RDT, performing more than 370 pieces.
When the Rockefeller Foundation first funded the company, it gave the founding members the charge to honor and preserve the history built by modern-dance pioneers as well as to commission and create new work.
The result is “a living museum representing 100 years of dance history,” according to RDT’s website.
“We’re a repertory company,” Smith said. “We commission, we acquire, we preserve.”
With Repertory Dance Theatre’s 50th anniversary coming during the 2015-16 season, Smith hopes to use the opportunity to remind others what the company can do.
“It will be a chance, I think, to celebrate who we are and maybe who we want to be,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to keep our ear to the ground and see what’s happening in the community.”
Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth explained that the word “opera” is an Italian word meaning “works,” and it’s the works, talents and dedication of hundreds of people that Utah Opera has come to be known for.
It’s created a “good vibe,” according to Robert Tweten, who has worked with the company as conductor on multiple productions since 2005.
“The minute you walk in the door, you realize that there’s this whole company of people that are all on the same page,” Tweten said.
What started as a small organization when it was founded in 1978 with each member filling multiple roles, from acting to fundraising to administrative work, has flourished into a robust opera company with dozens of full- and part-time employees. Included among Utah Opera’s employees is its administrative staff, as well as its well-known costume department that rents out costumes to other companies in addition to preparing the often elaborate costumes for Utah Opera’s productions. The organization also utilizes the talents of a 70-member chorus “who provide the energetic choral voice of Utah Opera’s productions,” according to Utah Opera’s website.
“It’s like a family that’s been working together,” Michelle Peterson said. “It’s not just about the performer; it’s about all those pieces coming together.”
This familial atmosphere has created a climate where artists can expect to not only reach their personal standard of excellence but also achieve something “even more exquisite,” according to Garnett Bruce, who has directed several performances for Utah Opera.
“Maybe it’s the focus; maybe it’s the air; maybe it’s the light, but really, it’s the people,” Bruce said. “This is a company of fantastic people who take such a pride in their work, and it reflects at every turn.”
Theaters around the community
A tradition of theater in Utah has existed for more than 150 years and continues with numerous theaters at the community, university, semiprofessional and professional levels.
Among the 501(c)(3) nonprofit theater companies in and around Salt Lake City that give local residents a chance to partake of high-quality theater productions — and, oftentimes, to be a part of them — are CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, The Grand Theatre, Hale Center Theater Orem, Hale Centre Theatre and Pioneer Theatre Company.
"We are really lucky in Utah," said Karen Azenberg, artistic director at PTC, "because the quality — and not just here — but the quality of the theater and the arts that we have is tremendous, and it’s on par with anything, any other city in this country."
This is owed in large part to the talented pool of actors and artists in Utah, some of whom don't have time to dedicate to a full-time, professional career in theater, said Seth Miller, interim artistic director at the Grand.
"This is a way for them to still be involved and still have that creative outlet," Miller said.
Different area theaters operating at the upper artistic levels have different aims and approaches, and every production is unique.
“I’m always of the feeling that all of that (having many area theaters) only benefits everybody," said Jansen Davis, artistic director of CenterPoint. "Even if you go to the same show at two different venues, it’s a different experience.”
While each of the different theaters has a slightly different focus, they all strive to provide audiences with a positive experience.
"We do theater that leaves people feeling better than when they got here," said Anne Swenson, managing director at HCTO.