UMOCA: A Hub for Culture, Artistic Expression, and New Ideas

Depending on which day of the week it is, anywhere from 25 to 250 people find their way into the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, or UMOCA (you-moe-cuh), located in Downtown Salt Lake City. For most of these people, it is their first time visiting the museum. While Salt Lake contains an abundance of art galleries, there is a relatively small list of museums, and that list is narrowed to only one when it comes to contemporary art: UMOCA. For this reason, UMOCA plays a vital role in Salt Lake’s art community, providing a type of experience not found anywhere else.


In conjunction with the Panopticon exhibition, UMOCA teamed up with local dance company Ririe-Woodbury to offer a diverse contemporary art stylings to museum visitors.

In conjunction with the Panopticon exhibition, UMOCA teamed up with local dance company Ririe-Woodbury to offer an evening of diverse contemporary art stylings to museum visitors.


UMOCA is a nonprofit organization, which means that even by definition, it conducts business for the benefit of the public. As a nonprofit, there are certain benefits over a commercial space. “It allows for a lot more engagement with the community,” explains UMOCA Curator of Exhibitions, Rebecca Maksym, “because our focus isn’t on commodities, sales, or money—it’s on content. That affords us an opportunity to focus more on the artist and their ideas and connecting that to our community, versus trying to make money off of selling their work.”


Specifically, focusing on content allows UMOCA to display cutting-edge, meaningful art aimed at invoking thought and emotion without having to consider a work’s profitability. Permitting the curator this freedom is indescribably important to a contemporary art museum, where oftentimes, the concept or idea behind the artwork is as important—if not more—than are the actual visuals.


Beyond this essential role, however, UMOCA also offers various programs, tours, and opportunities that truly prioritize outreach to the community. Maksym further explains, “The biggest benefit is that we’ve become a hub for culture, for artistic expression, for new ideas, and we do that in a lot of different ways.”


Artist Andrew Moncrief at the opening reception of his Projects Gallery exhibition, A Strange Feeling.

Artist Andrew Moncrief at the opening reception of his Projects Gallery exhibition, A Strange Feeling.


One of the ways by which UMOCA focuses on the community is promoting local artists. In the front of the museum, UMOCA’s Art Shop displays sculptures, books, cards, shirts, jewelry, paintings, and more from different local artists, providing them with exposure to new audiences everyday. Within the museum itself, the first gallery seen upon entrance, the Projects Gallery, is dedicated to showcasing works solely from artists working in Utah. Downstairs, hidden away from the public’s eye, is the museum’s Artist-In-Residence studio. This long-term residency program provides free studio space for up to six Utah artists annually to create their unique works. UMOCA aids these artists in career development through workshops, critiques, lectures, and more. At the end of their residencies, each artist has the chance to showcase the culmination of their work in the A.I.R. Space, which offers residents a chance to exhibit their works in a museum.


Another aspect of UMOCA that the public is not always aware of is its auditorium. The museum’s Creer Auditorium seats about 150 and is rented out by various local, national, and international organizations throughout the year—most recently, the Wasatch Mountain Film Festival and Polar Skate Co.’s premiere of Pontus Alv’s art/skate film, I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time. When people arrive for these film screenings, lectures, or performances, UMOCA’s auditorium fosters a different type of environment than does a standard theatre. Here it becomes a social event, where a true sense of community is felt through a chance to meet new people who share your same interests and live right in your backyard.


Students pose in front of the Art Truck, featuring the work of Calder Kamin.

Students pose in front of the Art Truck, featuring the charming work of Calder Kamin.


UMOCA is also known to host a multitude of programs, including Out Loud (a program created for youth voices in the LGBTQ+ community), the Art Truck (a roaming art studio dedicated to teaching youth about art), and Family Art Saturdays (a program for toddlers to tweens to create their own art). Each of these programs targets various groups found in our community, providing each with different ways to express themselves artistically. UMOCA also provides a multitude of tours for those who simply want to admire or explore the art and not necessarily create it. These tours are catered toward the specific needs of each group as well: SENSE/ABILITY Tours cater toward families with sensory-sensitive children, Stroller Tours are tailored for families with very young kids, and student tours are provided for classes and groups of students in any age range.


No matter what you’re looking for, UMOCA strives to be the place where you find it. Located in the heart of Downtown, the museum is a prime place to create new experiences, learn something new, express yourself, make a new pal, join the global conversation, or just blow an hour or two. Visit the museum during open hours Tuesday through Saturday, or head on over for a special event.


Written by Kendal Sudman
Spring 2016 Visitor Services and Special Events Intern