Christmas at the MOA celebrates the reason for the season

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(BYU Museum of Art)
Two children admire Brian Kershisnik’s painting entitled “Nativity.” The painting is part of the museum’s permanent collection and is currently the largest painting in the museum. (BYU Museum of Art)

The Museum of Art will take its traditional yearly Christmas party to the next level with a performance by Noteworthy and a talk from a living artist this Friday, Dec. 2.

Last year’s party focused on Norman Rockwell’s work as an extension of the museum’s “Art After Dark” events, but marketing and public relations manager Kylie Brooks said this year will be more of a general Christmas extravaganza.

The free event will run from 7-10 p.m., punctuated by two special appearances. BYU’s women’s a cappella group Noteworthy will perform from 7:30 p.m. to about 8:15, and at 8:30 Utah artist Brian Kershisnik will talk about his painting, “Nativity,” which is currently on display in the West Lead Gallery.

Museum educator Philipp Malzl said he initially wanted Noteworthy to perform at the first big Art After Dark in September, but they were booked out for several months. The group’s acclaim and popularity make them one of the museum’s bigger musical guests, and Malzl said he’s excited to see the impact of their performance.

“I think Christmas is a good enough reason to have a big act with a lot of people,” Malzl said. “And they’re going to put on a fantastic show.”

Brian Kershisnik, a BYU-educated artist, now sells art all over the country. Malzl said his style — somewhere between classic and modern — is really striking a chord with museum audiences. Kershisnik is one of the best-known living Utah artists according to Malzl, and his work is represented at Deseret Book. The artist will speak about the process behind “Nativity” and take questions. The painting is part of a small exhibition of five Christmas-themed works that comes out once a year.

Visitors at the event will be free to roam the galleries, listen to music and sample refreshments like cheesecake bars and Chex mix. Brooks said the party is similar to Art After Dark, just a level up from the usual standard.

“Honestly, I want people to come in and be floored with how festive it is,” Brooks said. “I hope that people take advantage of all the fun, cool, unique things that are going to be happening that evening.”

The museum currently features five exhibits, and Brooks said three of them have obvious Christmas connections. Minerva Teichert’s Book of Mormon paintings and the “To Magnify the Lord” exhibit of six centuries of religious art both focus on the Savior, emphasizing the worshipful feelings of Christmas.

Rebecca Campbell’s exhibit, “The Potato Eaters,” deals with themes of nostalgia and family which are heavily associated with the holiday season. The exhibit features some wintry scenes (one of a woman wrapped up in Christmas lights) and focuses on childhood memories and family time.

Art is naturally connected with the Christmas spirit, Brooks said.

“Often at Christmastime people are actually drawn to the arts,” Brooks said. “We go see the Nutcracker Ballet, we go to the symphony, we go to art museums with our families and our friends. There’s something about Christmastime that makes you want to celebrate with and participate in the arts, which for centuries have been about the birth of the Savior, really.”

Lynda Palma has been a museum educator for more than 23 years, before the MOA opened, and has watched the Christmas party evolve over time. Initially the event was more community-focused to establish the museum as a Provo entity. Santa Claus came, there were art projects and gift baskets for kids, and children’s choirs performed carols. Now the event focuses on the museum’s campus audience, specifically the student body.

Palma said the type of music has changed, and even the refreshments are different because the museum often does surveys to keep its finger on the pulse of what matters to students.

Palma said her primary goal as a museum educator at events like this is to have people leave the experience and say they’ll come back. She gives tours, creates educational materials and plans scavenger hunts to help people have a meaningful experience in the galleries. At events, she often finds herself dishing ice cream or cleaning up. She said events like this can capture all aspects of the Christmas spirit.

“One of the issues we have at Christmastime is that we want it to be a fun, exciting celebration, and on the other hand we want to maintain the spirit of the season and have it be worshipful,” Palma said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. They can both exist in the same wonderful party.”

The museum will continue its festivities on Thursday, Dec. 8, with a Christmas concert by the Consortium Ensemble, a men’s a cappella group made up of alumni from BYU Singers and Vocal Point.

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