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Cedar City landscape artist Jimmie Jones provided the seed money for the creation of the Southern Utah Museum of Art.
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Landscape artist Jimmie Jones had a vision for an art museum to be built on Southern Utah University’s campus.

According to information from the university, the Cedar City native, who passed away in 2009, approached university officials a few years before his death and pitched the idea.

“I propose to give all that I have to the building of a Southern Utah Museum of Art,” Jones said, according to information from the university. “I have a home, paintings and work by artists I have known and loved over the years. These, I propose, will be the seed from which, with your help, this project will grow.”

Thanks to Jones' seed money and paintings, his dream has come true seven years after his death in the form of the Southern Utah Museum of Art, “a student-centered experiential learning environment that collects, preserves and exhibits the visual arts of southern Utah and surrounding Colorado Plateau,” according to information from SUU. The museum is part of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, which is also home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“Jim’s gift of those last paintings allowed us to build this museum, to raise the rest of the funds,” Reese Summers, director of the SUMA, said in a video provided by the university. “Without that initial gift, without that initial interest, this wouldn’t have occurred. So in essence, this is the house that Jimmie built.”

The museum is a project Shauna Mendini, dean of SUU’s College of Performing and Visual Arts, has been anxiously awaiting. Her first responsibility after becoming dean was to announce the university’s plan to build the SUMA, and she said the completion of the project has been “an emotional crescendo.”

“It really is a pinnacle of what can take place when a university, a community, lovers of art, can come together and make something happen — something significant happen,” Mendini said in an interview with the Deseret News.

The 18,000-square-foot museum was built with adaptable gallery spaces to accommodate traveling exhibits, a special collection of Jones’ work and rotating exhibits from the permanent collections, according to information from the university.

“The construction, if we were to say one thing, is to promote versatility,” Mendini said. “The space itself is defined by the exhibition or the multiple exhibitions.”

According to the university, Blalock and Partners Architectural Design Studio in Salt Lake City partnered with Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa for the design of SUMA.

“With a museum, it does have to be an artistic statement,” Mendini said. “It is an exquisite building that I believe becomes a statement that is an artistic statement for our community and the entire (Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts).”

In addition to providing new art preservation and exhibit spaces, the museum’s design also includes climate control and will maintain a consistent temperature and humidity, which will allow the museum to host exhibits from around the world, according to the university.

The SUMA replaces the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, which had been a mainstay on SUU’s campus since the 1970s. Mendini said expanding the gallery into the SUMA creates a facility that is “now all encompassing of what a museum should be.” She also emphasized the new facility’s education spaces that provide additional opportunities for students.

“We see this as an experiential learning facility where students can learn hands-on in the finest of facilities in preparation for their careers.”

The main gallery’s moveable walls will also allow for other departments in the College of Performing and Visual Art to utilize the space, Mendini said.

“I’m excited to see theater in this space; I’m excited to see music, of course the visual art, student work, guest artists’ work, all of these taking place in the center that really is one of the major hubs of this institution,” she said.

In addition to using the space to educate SUU students, Mendini said the space also includes an education wing that will serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade throughout the surrounding five-county region.

“It’s the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, and her vision was in terms of connecting the arts to our children, improving the quality of life by connecting the arts and making them meaningful to our children,” Mendini said. “We’re talking about impact being expanded so far and so much more further in its reach than what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

At the museum's dedication on July 7, multiple speakers re-emphasized Jones' commitment to creating a museum that would make a difference in the community. Mendini read a portion of a letter Jones wrote before his passing, stating, "I invite you to join me in the creation of something exceptional and enduring, something that will be a legacy for you and me, to all live in or visit this extraordinary region."

Summers added in his gratitude in his remarks: "I'm very privileged to be the caretaker for this short period of time of Jimmie's life thesis, and I'm very proud to be part of this process."

Current exhibits

“The Final Paintings” by Jimmie Jones — on display permanently: “These 15 paintings comprise the very best of Jones’ work and with the exception of 'Point Sublime' were part of Jimmie’s gift to SUU, a gift which was the cornerstone of SUMA,” according to SUMA’s website at suu.edu/pva/suma.

“Western Therapy” by Kevin Kehoe — on display through Oct. 1: According to Kehoe’s artist statement accompanying the exhibit, his paintings depicting scenes of the West are a celebration of how the region is “good medicine for the human who chooses to revel in it, be fulfilled by it and just plain feel alive in it.” Kehoe’s work is on display at SUMA courtesy of Modern West Fine Art in Salt Lake City.

ArtsAfire Plein Air Art Invitational Exhibit and Sale by various artists — through Sept. 1: During the week of July 11, "paint(ed) and conduct(ed) demonstrations at Cedar Breaks National Monument, Cedar Canyon and at SUMA," according to the museum's website. The artists' work is on display and for sale at the SUMA.

“The Grand Circle Tour — National Parks Historic Photography Exhibit” — through Sept. 1: Mendini said this exhibit was curated by Paula Mitchell, an SUU special collections librarian. “It’s a photo gallery that’s part of SUU’s permanent collection (and shows) what it was like to be a tourist at the turn of the century,” she said.

“Find Your Park” by SUU students — on display through Sept. 1: Mendini said it would “be difficult to show an exhibition (at the SUMA) without providing an opportunity for students.” She said “Find Your Park” explores what a park means to each student.

SUMA — "The house that Jimmie built"

Artist Jimmie Jones had a dream for a Southern Utah Museum of Art. Thanks to his gift, that dream was able to become a reality.

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