Their mission seemed a positive one for any community, yet the expulsion stands. And, the question remains, why did board members choose to locate this progressive art center in the not-so-progressive town of Ephraim in the first place? The town is certainly not a beacon of contemporary art; one might expect to find an exhibit featuring hand-sewn quilts, not contentious work by more contemporary artists like, say, Andres Serrano or even Andy Warhol. As it turns out, Bateman is an Ephraim native, himself, and when the space and money became available to make CUAC a contemporary venue, he embraced the opportunity to curate in his hometown. He was willing to take a chance on introducing Sanpete County to true artistic debate.
It seems Ephraim just wasn’t up for the challenge. Bateman invested countless hours into the project and made a concerted attempt at community outreach, but was ultimately rejected. Although the eviction is disheartening, Bateman believes that the center has positively impacted the economy and culture of Ephraim. “I think that CUAC has helped to create a fundamental shift in the way a few people see art and the world. I think the very fact of our eviction is evidence that we are affecting change—if we weren't having an influence, no one would complain,” he says.
Only two weeks prior to the eviction notice, Bateman says, Ephraim City voted to renew the center’s funding, as usual. However, in the weeks following the renewal, city councilmen, the city manager, and the city mayor visited the current exhibition. These viewings, Bateman believes, may have been the catalyst for the city’s funding withdrawal. Although he doubts one show is solely to blame for the eviction, Bateman expected that photographs of exposed breasts featured in the current exhibition contributed to their disapproval.
Aside from their occasional rated-PG13 content, the CUAC buildings are not flashy or imposing. Their presence is subtle, and they blend seamlessly with the other buildings in Ephraim. The primary gallery building looks kind of like an old church and is, in fact, a renovated roller mill originally built in 1876 and run by the Relief Society of the local Mormons. The smaller one-room gallery space behind the roller mill was once home to Norwegian pioneer artist, C.C.A. Christensen. The buildings were renovated with preservation in mind, leaving limestone bricks and old rafters exposed.
They’re charming. Nevertheless, the artwork inside has produced controversy. “We’re really clear with our funders that we’re here to show the very best art that we can, and then we let our audience decide how they feel about it. We never censor anything and are proud of it,” Bateman said, just weeks before the eviction. Post-eviction, he echoed this sentiment with even more conviction. “We don’t pretend that every visitor will like the art we show––we simply believe that they’ll consider it honestly. I think that at the heart of censorship lies the notion that one person presumes to know what is best for everyone––at the heart of what we do is the idea that people are smart enough to decide for themselves,” he says.
A farewell party is scheduled for 8 p.m. on August 18 in Ephraim. A final pARTy Bus will be heading to the gathering featuring a DJ, dancing and a screening of, quite appropriately, Footloose. For more information and tickets, check out cuartcenter.org.