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UMOCA’s Adam Price burns out in a flash of glory

by on December 4, 2012


Adam Price, executive director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, has resigned, which has to be a setback for Utah’s modern art scene.

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Price has been a pivotal person in the state’s education in and acceptance of contemporary art. Price especially embraced street art, what many in the city dismissed as graffiti. Price believes that good street art is a window into a city’s soul. He dragged the city toward  enlightenment beginning with the 337 Project in 2007. Price, a Harvard-trained attorney, and his wife Desi invited dozens of artists to create on the walls of an aging Salt Lake City office building, knowing that it —and their work— would ultimately be destroyed.

The project became a cultural milestone for many street artists and was a turning point for Price, who soon after left his lucrative 14-year law career to become the director of the Salt Lake Art Center. It was telling that he immediately pushed the center to be renamed the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, the only institution in the city committed to art of the moment.

He also brought on vibrant young curators, first Micol Hebron from Los Angeles, then Aaron Moulton from Berlin.

Now Price has left UMOCA saying he has no firm plans besides taking a 60-day sabbatical after three years without a vacation.

He admits that burn-out from running and expanding UMOCA through a recession is a large part of the reason he is leaving. Price says he “was burned out about three months into the job,” but hung on until the museum was stable.

“It’s been a really long three years,” he says. “It took a lot of work to get it up and going again in that climate. I decided [now] that the museum is at a place where it is a good time to move on.”

One thing is certain, Price says, he will not return to the law: “I love working in cultural institutions because of the kind of impacts a great cultural institution can have on a city. It’s fun and it feels meaningful.”

Price says he may leave Utah. “I don’t have any specific plans. I’m talking to some culture institutions, in the state and out of the state. We’ll have to see how it plays out.”

But he says that individuals, no matter their impact, are only cogs in a great museum or art scene.

“It’s important to remember the institution is more important the the individual people,” Price says. “I hope the changes I’ve made will stick. That’s the life of cultural institutions.”

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