The Central Utah Art Center, or CUAC as it is now known, is right to hold Ephraim city officials accountable for shutting down the well-known art center after it showed exhibits they said did not "cater" to Ephraim residents' values.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the center said the city has censored it because some exhibits in 2011 and 2012 featured depictions of nudity and explored themes of sexuality, gender and identity.
Last June the mayor and members of the City Council in the small college town in rural central Utah gave a feeble excuse for evicting the art center from a building the city had provided free for two decades. The city fathers said CUAC, which had received a $30,000 annual stipend, failed to deliver education programs to public schools and Snow College.
Although there was no formal lease agreement, the center owners said they spent about $350,000 to remodel and preserve a pioneer-era grain mill in exchange for free use of the building.
The timing of the eviction, during an exhibit titled "SuperHUMAN" that included three photographic works by artist Chitra Ganesh focusing on a woman's nude breasts, points to censorship, not a failure of the center to provide services the city expected, as motivation for the eviction. The suit states that Ephraim Mayor David Parrish sent the center an email objecting to a graphic display, and said it "goes against my values and beliefs."
Clearly it is not the role of government to enforce a particular set of values and beliefs over another.
Besides its role in quashing free expression it did not like, the city eliminated a symbiotic partnership that benefited the community. CUAC provided a gallery for Sanpete County artists and for Snow College art students and faculty. More than 500 local elementary-school students took art classes at the center, and a children's program was in place at Ephraim Elementary School.
But the center's founders had more than art classes in mind. They wanted to create a world-class gallery that showed cutting-edge art, and they were well on their way. The CUAC shows attracted about 19,000 visitors annually and contributed an estimated $250,000 to the local economy, according to the center's owners.
The Central Utah Art Center has moved its gallery to Salt Lake City. It is Ephraim's loss.