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Garfo, a Salt Lake City gallery that has become integral to Utah's contemporary art scene, is likely to close its doors in early June.

Two years ago, Westminster College purchased the old Garfield Elementary School on 1500 East that houses the Visual Art Institute (VAI), and its offshoot, the Garfo Gallery. The college will begin remodeling the building this summer.

Meanwhile, the VAI, which has been in the building for 29 of its 33 years, is in the process of finding a new location, where it will continue its art education programs, says director Bruce Robertson.

"We are in the process of speaking with our parents to find out what their preferences are," Robertson says. "We are trying to stay close to the same area, if possible."

The building must be vacated by late July. Since the Westminster purchase, Garfo has scheduled show by show, says Garfo curator Cara Despain. "We knew eventually this day was going to come."

But continuing to operate a gallery like Garfo may be a luxury VAI can't afford, Despain says. "I don't know if we can afford the space to keep it in operation."

And while the gallery has been below most Utahns' radar, it has become a vital space in the contemporary arts community.

"The unique thing about Garfo was that Salt Lake artists could show alongside emerging artists from around the country," Despain says.

Some of the deepest grief for the rough-edged gallery is coming from curators at the state's major art museums, who are struggling to expand Utah's contemporary art scene.

"Garfo is a big loss for the arts community," says Micol Hebron, senior curator at the Salt Lake Art Center who has participated in Garfo events.

Not only were Garfo's exhibits of local and national artists interesting, Hebron says, but the gallery bridged a crucial gap in a city that has few contemporary art venues beyond major museums. "Its contribution to expanding the dialogue on contemporary arts was essential."

The gallery closing will be "devastating" to the recent surge of interest in the local contemporary art scene, says Jeff Lambson, contemporary and modern art curator at Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

"We desperately need spaces like that," Lambson says. "You can't go from being a young artist directly to a museum show — you need another step. We need more spaces like Garfo."

Garfo's final exhibit, "Press Plush," which includes installation, sculpture, video, crochet and fiber media, explores the roots and influence of 1960s soft sculpture.

Curators are looking at various ways to continue Garfo's role in the art scene—perhaps a "homeless art gallery," Despain says, that would migrate from space to space.

But Robertson hopes space for a gallery might be found at VAI's new home.

"I'm optimistic," he says. "We may be able to do something on smaller scale. We found one location that would accommodate it. It would be my hope to be able to continue it, if at all possible." —

Goodbye, Garfo

What •The Garfo Gallery's last exhibit, "Plush Press," will run through June 3.

Where • Visual Art Institute (old Garfield Elementary), 1838 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City.

Info •To set up a tour, or check the gallery's hours, call 801-474-3796 or email