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After more than three years guiding the Utah Museum of Fine Arts towards expanded contemporary art programming, Chief curator Jill Dawsey is moving back to the West Coast.

"San Diego is my hometown and wanted to be closer to family," says Dawsey, who will become an assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Despite her upcoming departure, Dawsey says the city's contemporary arts scene is increasingly vibrant. "It doesn't have anything to do with Salt Lake City," she says of her motivation to move.

Since Dawsey began at the UMFA in 2008, she has emphasized contemporary art at the museum with more than 18,000 art works in its collection, ranging from Egyptian artifacts to hundreds of Utah landscapes to works by Andy Warhol.

In 2010, Dawsey launched the UMFA's "salt" series, which twice a year brings in emerging internationally known artists for a major exhibition. The "salt" program usually involves new work created on site, and participants have included Belgian video artist Sophie Whettnall and French installation artist Cyprien Gaillard.

"Salt 4" opened last week to showcase New York-and Paris-based photographer/sculptor/performance artist and DJ Xavier Simmons.

Earlier this year, Dawsey curated "The Smithson Effect," which examined the far-reaching impact of artist Robert Smithson, who is best known for the massive Spiral Jetty that he constructed out of basalt rock in the Great Salt Lake in 1970. Though the Spiral Jetty attracts art tourists from around the world, the earthworks is often ignored by Utah visitors.

Dawsey's departure follows the relocation of Salt Lake Art Center's chief curator and contemporary artist Micol Hebron to Los Angeles. Both Dawsey and Hebron are expected to return to install exhibitions that they had scheduled into 2012.

Three and a half years is a common tenure at a museum in the modern art field, says Dawsey, who previously worked as an assistant curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "It's not unusual for contemporary art curators to move around. It's good to have fresh voices. The museum will bring in somebody amazing and the programming will grow."

UMFA Director Gretchen Dietrich says she is committed to continuing Dawsey's focus.

"I'm going to replace Jill with another contemporary curator," Dietrich says. "She raised the bar on exhibitions and collecting contemporary art at the museum."

UMFA's board and patrons support the direction, she says, and Utah's recent growth in cutting-edge art will draw another contemporary art curator.

"There are a lot of people in the world who want to be contemporary curators," she says. "It's a great opportunity for someone who wants a lot of responsibility and wants to do a lot of work."