Various art galleries and museums in Utah County have begun putting up art exhibits that showcase local artists with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
This increase in amplifying the voice of certain communities has been trending for the past few years in Utah, and can be reflected in cities such as Provo, Orem and Springville.
However, numbers show that there is still a diversity problem in the beehive state, and according to a 2021 WalletHub.com analysis, Provo stood out as the least diverse city in the United States out of the 501 American cities included in the survey.
Even though research estimates Utah will continue to diversify during the next 40 years, community efforts to share the voices of underrepresented artists can promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, which would pave the way for incoming artists with diverse backgrounds.
“Art can help create a safe and belonging space,” said Brad Kramer, the owner of the Writ and Vision gallery located in Provo. “It can also help create context for important discussion and conversation about things we don’t talk about enough that need to be addressed.”
Marlena Wilding, Leslie Espino and Jessie Payne are just a few of the artists in Utah County who use their talent and diverse background to tell stories and begin conversations about less discussed topics.
Growing up as a Black woman in the Church
Utah native Marlena Wilding said she always knew she wanted to be an artist, which led her to apply to the BYU art program.
As she began her studies at the university, she realized she was the only Black female artist in the program that year, and took it upon herself to study and express her own identity through her art.
Wilding explained how during her college experience, she created pieces that represented her experience as a Black woman growing up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, where Church members are mostly white.
Even though she felt like people who saw her art didn’t always understand or relate to her perspective and experiences, she kept her work up.
“People in Utah are more open to different perspectives than when I was in college around 2013,” Wilding said.
Wilding’s artwork was displayed at the Writ and Vision gallery on March 2022, where she presented her exhibit called “Perspectives on Light and Dark,” a look into the concept of darkness in the scriptures.
“In religion and scriptures, ‘darkness’ is referred to as evil or bad, and ‘fair’ or ‘white’ are on the contrary, a synonym of purity,” Wilding said. “My art shows that there is a misunderstanding of the concept of ‘darkness’ in the scriptures, that may contribute to causing a subconscious racial divide in America.”
NASA environmental scientist Leslie Espino was part of the group of people who decided to take on a new hobby during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained in March 2020 she started looking for a creative outlet that would feel like a safe space when she was off work.
Espino decided to start creating art, and she began exploring and learning how to use the necessary materials.
During the learning period, Espino said her environmental science background made her feel more aware of the many materials that were going to waste as she made beginner’s mistakes.
“I felt very bad about all the waste after the mistakes I made when I was just learning,” Espino said. “I had a pile of mistake paintings and I didn’t want them to go to waste, so over time I started seeing the materials as something I could reuse.”
This idea resulted in the creation of her Instagram art account, where she displays her pieces made with reused materials, and where she shares tips on how to be artistic and take care of the environment at the same time.
“I really enjoy the challenge of forcing myself to open up that perspective and seeing materials in a different form,” Espino said.
Ukrainian artists tell Soviet stories
Springville Museum of Art director Rita Wright and associate director Emily Larsen explained how they wanted to showcase Ukrainian painters in light of the war conflict involving Ukraine and Russia. They decided to hang some up and post them on social media.
“They are daily life paintings that artists were made to create to show an idealized vision of the Soviet Union,” Larsen said. “However, having these paintings provides the viewers with a different perspective, and it helps draw connections from what happened then, to the conflict Ukrainian people are living now.”
Regarding how the Springville Museum of Art obtained the works of art, Wright explained that when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Utah advisors were invited to Ukraine to help improve their economy.
When they were in the country, they noticed there were many Ukrainian artists previously employed by the soviet government, who were trying to sell their art as a last resource to survive.
“This proved to be a difficult task, since Ukrainian citizens didn’t want to buy soviet propagandistic artwork,” Wright said. “And so Utah advisors purchased many of them and brought some of the nicer ones to the Springville Museum of Art.”
As a result, the Springville Museum of Art has a collection more than 300 paintings by Ukrainian artists, according to Wright and Larsen.
“People’s reaction to us posting about these paintings has so far been overwhelmingly positive” Wright said. “As humans, we can find connection among different artists and emotions and realities, even though there are many things that divide us.”
Love and inclusion in religion
Similar to Espino’s experience, Jessie Payne began her Instagram account dedicated to art during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She explained how art became a way that she processed the things she worried about, especially with God and religion.
Payne, who identifies as a non-denominational Christian, said she uses her platform to show “God’s immense capacity to love, and encourage inclusion and compassion.” She said became a way for her to ponder about her questions regarding God and religion.
“Thanks to art, I have learned so much about the divine ways that we can recognize God,” Payne said.