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Kristian Anderson, Executive Director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, knows well the impact contemporary art can have in any community.

He talks about the groundswell of contemporary artists in Helper, a once-thriving mining town in Central Utah, who are helping shape that town's new image.

"It's easy for us to sometimes stay within our own bubble (in the valley)," Anderson said. "I'm really excited about what's going on in places like, say, Helper. Art is helping revitalize that town."

In the same way, UMOCA is working to help give Utah artists a larger voice in the communities they influence and bring into the forefront Utah's unique, and local, contemporary arts scene.

Rebecca Maksym, who is Curator of Exhibitions at UMOCA, knows well how connecting to local artists serves a larger purpose.

"One of our biggest goals is to put Salt Lake City into the global arts scene. But that effort starts by supporting artists that are working right here at home," said Maksym.

As a contemporary art museum, Anderson recognizes the unique ability visual arts have to draw people into the gallery. Presenting an idea or concept visually and dynamically can engage an audience and bring complex ideas to life, he said.

Contemporary art has the unique ability to quickly shape, adapt and present ideas that are going on every day, everywhere.

"If we just put up artwork — and just contemporary artwork — where function dictates form in some of it, it can be a little overwhelming. But we're really different," he said.

"I think that the visual arts community tends to be incredibly supportive of their communities and vice versa," Anderson added. "Part of our museum is our education department that frame issues in context that gives people avenues of interest."

Since 1931, UMOCA has offered a slew of programming, schools and lectures to help local artists grow and succeed. Now in its eighth decade, the museum has doubled-down on its focus of being a museum for contemporary art and ideas — something in which Anderson believes deeply.

"I fundamentally believe that as a museum we hold a mirror up to our contemporary society that asks if we like what we see and if we can be agents for change through art," he said.

That's evident by one of the museum's current exhibitions, "Panopticon," a multi-faceted display of how our lives are being monitored, categorized and recorded. The word "Panopticon" is a construction of "pan," which means all, and "opticon," meaning observation. The show runs until July 25.

"'Panopticon' becomes this encompassing metaphor about surveillance, notions of visibility — who is seen and who is not seen. The show is a glimpse of how that looks, now," said Maksym.

For example, the museum will be hosting an Art Talk 7 p.m. June 26 at the gallery where Utah artist Scott Tsuchitani will present his work "Internment" that looks at Japanese internment prisoners at Topaz Mountain during World War II. Tsuchitani's work is part of the larger "Panopticon" exhibition.

Tsuchitani's father was interned at the camp, Maksym said, which brings his story and art to life as relevant to Utah's history — and Utah's present too.

"We want to make sure that the themes and topics are relevant to Utah," said Anderson. "The Japanese internment camp was a strong injustice that was committed a long time ago. What our society has done in the past, those concepts are still alive today."

And that makes the art that UMOCA presents all the more important. Maksym and Anderson — as well as the rest of the UMOCA staff — help bring contemporary art to Utahns in an easy-to-understand, and unintimidating environment.

"Everything that we do is focused and anchored in art," said Anderson. "The art is the skeleton of our work."

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the heart of Downtown Salt Lake City at 20 S. West Temple, and is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation supported by public, foundation and corporate gifts. UMOCA is a four-time recipient of funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation and is also a 2015 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts' Art Works Grant Award.

For more information about UMOCA go to http://www.utahmoca.org or call 801-328-4201. The museum is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Suggested donation for a visit to the museum is $5.

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