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Art Access Gallery offers a counterpoint to the debate on immigration reform that's expected to erupt at the Utah Legislature later this month.

The show, "Driven From the State: An Exhibit of Art and Ideas," will include the work of more than a dozen Utah artists attempting to bring compassion and reason to the debate by reminding Mormons that they, too, were once despised wanderers who saw Utah as a safe haven.

"History repeats itself," says painter Jimmy Lucero. "Their forefathers experienced the very same environment with people who were hostile to them. They should realize that these new immigrants want the same thing their forefathers wanted."

The Utah Legislature, which begins its annual session Jan. 24, could see as many as a dozen or more immigration bills introduced, including Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill that's similar to the controversial Arizona law passed last year.

Artist Alex Moya says his installation, a montage of pioneer Utah photographs and words in the pioneer Mormon Deseret Alphabet, is meant to contrast the state leaders' esteem for 19th-century pioneers with their suspicion of today's immigrants. "We celebrate pioneers then we condemn the new immigrants," says Moya, an immigrant from Mexico now transplanted to Utah.

His piece uses the Deseret Alphabet to spell out: You were once immigrants and persecuted. Why do you persecute us?

The alphabet was developed as a "welcoming gesture" to Mormon immigrants from around the world, Moya says. "It's very different from what we are seeing at the Legislature now," he says.

Lucero says the show is meant to trigger understanding, not controversy. "I'm not trying to anger anybody," he says. "I'm hoping the show will bring forward some dialogue where people can discuss things on a human level where they can have compassion for their fellow man."

The show fulfills the gallery's mission to deal with social justice themes, says Art Access executive director Ruth Lubbers. "Art is a place that hot-button issues can be explored rationally," she says.

Exploring through art

"Driven From the State: An Exhibit of Art and Ideas"

Where • Art Access Gallery, 230 S. 500 West, Salt Lake City

When • Friday, Jan. 7, through Jan. 14. An artists reception Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. includes readings by journalists Scott Carrier and Chad Nielson.