SALT LAKE CITY — The past decade has brought an increased diversity to the Salt Lake Valley, evidenced by a burgeoning population of out-of-state transplants and one of the nation’s largest refugee populations.
For years, the Mestizo Gallery, located inside the Mestizo Coffeehouse, has stood out as a community art and activism space created by the Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts. Founded in 2003, MICA is a nonprofit organization that serves the local community by providing a venue dedicated to social transformation through dialogue and education.
As the new director and curator of the Mestizo Gallery, Jendar Marie Morales brings ample experience and enthusiasm to her position.
Morales grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to Utah to study humanities with an emphasis in art history at Brigham Young University. After graduating from BYU, she lived in New York City for four years, earning a master’s degree in museum studies from New York University and immersing herself in the nation’s art capital.
The seemingly endless possibilities of a smaller art market and the opportunity to recruit new art enthusiasts through excellent programming are what eventually drew Morales back to Utah. Now, as the voice of the Mestizo gallery, Morales has enormous freedom to build exhibitions from the ground up and forge invaluable connections with local artists and activists.
“I like meeting with artists, seeking them out and going through the whole process of coming up with a vision and bringing it together,” Morales said.
MICA’s longstanding reputation for community engagement has made the Mestizo Art Gallery a premier venue for minority artists. In addition to hosting exhibitions that tackle complex and intelligent topics such as cultural, gender and political identity, the space is a collaborative nexus of collective activities such as lectures, workshops and dance classes.
“Our art is about activism and promoting the work of minorities and to build a community to bring people into the space that would normally not go to a gallery,” Morales said.
Morales replaces Renato Olmedo-González, a talented curator whose work helped to augment the gallery’s mission and community recognition.
Now working for the Mexican consulate, Olmedo-González is excited for this new phase in Mestizo’s history.
“Jendar is so prepared and renowned within the community and completely ready to inject Mestizo with new energy,” he said.
While many opt for large art museums over small galleries, Mestizo is all about creating exhibitions visitors won’t discover anywhere else in the state. More than just about showcasing diversity, Mestizo’s mission is deeply rooted in activism and social discourse.
This month, the gallery is featuring “Laugh Attack,” a new exhibition of paintings by artist Rachel Stallings, and an event titled “Furthering the Conversation: An Interactive Workshop on Race” on Feb. 28, in accordance with Black History Month.
In a succession of noteworthy exhibitions and expanding visitor interest, the public seems to be taking note of what Mestizo is doing.
“I personally have never been as excited as I am now about the future of the organization,” said local artist and educator Jorge Rojas, who is also a member of MICA’s board. “Working with promising young curators like Jendar Morales, who is passionate about art, community and social justice issues, is a key step in working toward our mission.”
For Morales, the opportunity to elicit social discussion and political activism from Salt Lake City is an immense and exciting task.
“I’m doing what I love, and I’m also bringing my own personal experiences as a woman of color living in Salt Lake City, (so) both my personal and professional experience come together in this space,” she said.
If you go ...
What: “Furthering the Conversation: An Interactive Workshop on Race”
When: Feb. 28, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Mestizo Gallery, 631 W. North Temple, Suite 700
How much: Free
What: “Laugh Attack,” paintings by Rachel Stallings
When: Through March 11, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and she currently works as a writer and curator.