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Negotiations between the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the New York art foundation Dia to reach a lease agreement on the land beneath the 1,500-foot earth artwork Spiral Jetty are "progressing well," but have no clear end in sight, according to a state lands administrator.
The lease was thrown into question after the DNR reported that Dia had failed to renew the lease at Rozell Point on the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake when it ran out in February. Dia countered that it had been working with a state Sovereign Lands administrator on a new agreement when the administrator unexpectedly died in 2010.
Ryan Nesbitt, Sovereign Lands Program coordinator at the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said in an email recently that Dia and the division are pursuing a "noncompetitive" process to renew the lease and Division Director Dick Buehler will have the final say. In July, Buehler and Nesbitt met in Salt Lake City with top Dia officials, including Director Philippe Vergne, and continue to communicate, but no additional meetings have been scheduled, Nesbitt said.
Any agreement will be subject to public-comment meetings, Nesbitt says.
On its website, Dia this month confirmed the negotiations with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
"The division and Dia agree on the extraordinary importance of Spiral Jetty as both an internationally acclaimed artwork and an iconic Utah destination," the statement says. "The original lease could not have contemplated the Spiral Jetty's contemporary significance, nor the fact that visitors travel from around the world to see this remote and isolated work of art."
Nesbitt says the DNR "recognizes the importance of the Spiral Jetty and we wish to work as a partner with the lessee to provide adequate, safe access to the Spiral Jetty for the general public, [and] see that appropriate compensation is provided for the use of public lands ..."
Dia had leased the property for $250 a year under the previous 20-year agreement.
Utah Museum of Fine Arts Director Gretchen Dietrich confirmed that the museum has been approached by Dia and the DNR to take on a stewardship role in a new agreement. "Generally, people agree it would be great for the Dia Foundation to have a local cooperating cultural partner," Dietrich said.
The division has chosen not to open the lease process to competition or bids, Nesbitt said, and will not be talking to the two other applicants for the lease.
Herbert Steiner, a wealthy art patron in Seattle who commissioned the earth work "Ratio," a 44-foot high stack of cubes assembled in 2010 near Green River, entered a bid, but the DNR told his lawyer, Scott Jenkins, that the state chose to work with Dia.
"[Steiner] took an interest in the Spiral Jetty when he funded the project at Green River," says Jenkins. "Everyone who is interested in art knows about the Spiral Jetty. We were concerned that it be preserved and available to the public."
The DNR also informed the other applicant, Jetty Foundation established by Greg Allen, was also informed of its decision to negotiate with Dia. Allen envisioned a locally based foundation holding the lease on the state land, but allow Dia to retain control of the artwork itself.
Steiner and Allen have said they would be willing to pursue the lease if Dia fails to reach an agreement with the DNR.