Emily here.

Jen called me in June of 2020 full of frustration at the Utah art scene’s status quo. As we tried to pin down what felt so dissatisfying, we realized that it all came down to one basic conundrum…

We found ourselves puzzled by the fact that we were positively surrounded by brilliant, vibrant, diverse, capable individuals, yet somehow the glaring majority of arts gatekeepers seemed to be one type of person looking for artists to fulfil a very particular, very narrow sort of demand on their stages, and in their series’.

One of our first instincts was to create a space that would allow us to open our arms and a stage/platform to all kinds of performers making challenging art—art that isn’t always instantly “entertaining,” or immediately accessible.

But the more we thought about it, the more we realized we had something more radical in mind. As we crafted our mission statement, we felt our hearts light up at this new vision.

We began to imagine something that might—if by small degrees—shift the entire arts and art-consumption culture in our home state.

To me, “radical” means something equal parts brave and unimaginable. I can imagine, the kind of space where I would feel welcome to share the art I make, but I want a space for the brave art and stories I can’t even begin to imagine…

So, right away, this word “radical” felt right to us. And as I hinted at above, “art” is a concept I personally love to challenge. What is art? What isn’t? I hope to spend a lot of time on this question moving forward.

We hope both our community of artists and our audiences of artful consumers will include people of all races, genders nationalities, socio-economic statuses, and educational or ideological backgrounds.

Again, our goal is to affect the culture. We want radical, intersectional art to be elevated from a once-a-season pedestalized assignment. We want all sorts of art, in all kinds of venues, all over our state. We want a rich diversity to be the baseline expectation, not an exception or a novelty.

We’re not yet sure exactly what this will look like, but we have a few goals:

First, we want to learn what we can from cities and communities whose cultures already honor these values. We’d love to invite members of such communities to share their art with us, and to teach us how to understand and receive it with respect.

Second, we want to gather radical artists from all over our state and show each other what is extraordinary about what we each create. What are the tools with which to understand radical art and radical artists? How can we honor and hold one another regardless of our individual tastes and preferences? Can we learn to see what is objectively phenomenal about something we don’t immediately understand? …maybe even something we don’t particularly like?

There are important lessons to learn here, and I believe we can learn them together with creativity, patience, and love.

More than anything, I hope we can open our minds to many perspectives on what it means to create and consume art boldly, bravely and with compassion. I hope we can learn to shift our perspectives with both knowledge and empathy as we consider these big questions—what is art? what is beauty? what is excellence?

I’m not a native Utahn myself, but I think I could buy into the dream of Utah as a place that values family. I suppose I’d just like to broaden that definition a whole lot. I love the idea of having a deep and real and non-caricatured understanding and respect for all of my kindred here in the beehive state. In every corner. I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to marvel at who you are and what you create.


Emily Merrell