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Museum opens with civil rights exhibit

The Leonardo will feature science, technology, art

SALT LAKE CITY — Lisa Davis sees Utah as a place of pioneering in science and technology. The state has always been invention-rich and is a good home to the arts, as well.

"We feel like The Leonardo builds on that tradition and provides a platform for people to enjoy and see and learn about what's happening now," said Davis, spokeswoman for the new museum of science, technology and art.

The Leonardo, located in the old Salt Lake City Library building on Library Square, opens Oct. 8 with a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. Among the many exhibits and features will be "This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement." A traveling photography exhibit four years in the making, "This Light of Ours" is produced by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization formerly known as the Center for Documentary Arts.

The CDEA was among the affiliate groups that helped create The Leonardo. The first exhibit in the museum's Human Rights Gallery will run until March 31, 2012, then move on to a five-year national tour in the fall.

"We wanted to work on a theme that we felt was central to understanding human rights in the United States," said Leslie Kelen, executive director of the CDEA, of the choice to focus on the civil rights movement of the 1960s. "It's so central to understanding who we are as a people."

"This Light of Ours" features the work and voices of nine activist photographers. Unlike images produced by photojournalists who covered breaking news events for magazines and newspapers at the time, these photographers lived and worked within the movement, primarily in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

"We wanted to create a much broader picture of the movement than we generally get," said Kelen, pointing out that the photographers themselves were activists. They were each heavily involved in the movement, allowing them to capture moments that, though they weren't considered newsworthy at the time, were pivotal.

The exhibit includes 157 black-and-white photographs, grouped into four themes: the SNCC's organizing strategies, resolve in the face of violence, impact on local and national politics, and influence on the nation's consciousness.

Kelen believes the exhibit especially captures the influence American youths had on political change.

"We are saying through these photographers that the movement was transformative," said Kelen, adding that people involved with the movement "became agents of change" and changed within themselves.

Davis said the exhibit humanizes the museum's offerings and "remind(s) us of the human element of all of this fantastic creativity and innovation."

"It's part of a bigger vision," she said.

That creativity and innovation are found throughout The Leonardo's exhibits. The flagship piece in the lobby is "Hylozoic Ground" by artist Philip Beesley. It's three stories tall and made up of more than 500,000 pieces.

"It's just this beautiful representation of the fusion of science and technology and art," Davis said.

Exhibits will come and go every six months to a year and a half. Different programs, lectures and workshops will be available.

"The Lab" will host a variety of experts and residents. The first featured team is developing a video game for smart phones, and patrons have the chance to help with the finishing process.

"The Dynamic Performance of Nature" boasts 10,000 LED lights. The lights and motion of the piece communicate what's happening in nature, such as the seismic activity of a certain area, in an artistic way.

"Digital Commons" is an exhibit about animation. Davis said The Leonardo is "committed to making and doing," so many of the exhibits are hands-on. Patrons will have the chance to explore a green screen, motion capture bay and even make an animated short of their own.

"ID: What Makes You You?" is an exhibit done in conjunction with the University of Utah. A team of genetic researchers from the university will test volunteers among museum patrons as part of a study.

"What we're trying to do here is we are trying to engage visitors in their own creativity, in their own curiosity and in their own potential," Davis said.

Facilitators will be available to conduct school or group tours of the "This Light of Ours" exhibit. Tours can be booked by contacting The Leonardo at 801-531-9800, ext. 129, or email

The Leonardo will be open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will be closed Tuesdays.

For more information on the "This Light of Ours" exhibit, visit or call 801-355-3903. For more information about The Leonardo, visit or its Facebook page.