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Party at the newly remodeled Utah Museum of Fine Arts — but careful with the art

SALT LAKE CITY — When asked what makes the newly renovated Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) unique, senior curator Whitney Tassie answered without hesitation.

“Definitely our collection,” she said. “… Within the state there really is not another collection with our breadth and depth … (and) that has this range of artwork that covers something like 5,000 years of history. So that’s unique for Utahns to be able to come and see that range of human practice and creativity in one building.”

That building is the Marcia and John Price Museum Building (410 Campus Center Drive), which is on the University of Utah campus and has been under renovation since mid-January 2016. A free public reopening party will be held Aug. 26-27 and will feature tours, films and even a dance party.

Changes to the museum include a new vapor barrier, the addition of African, Chinese and photography galleries, three “conversation areas” where people can recharge while they learn about art, and rewritten display labels — including several in the permanent galleries that have been translated into Spanish. Executive director Gretchen Dietrich said almost half of the work now on view has either never been displayed or hasn't been displayed in a long time; other changes, she added, include minor facility improvements that help the artwork's flow, refinished floors and new wall colors.

This is the most extensive re-installation since the building opened in 2001 and carries a total price tag of close to $5 million — $2.3 million raised through private donations for the re-installation and another state-funded $2.5 million to replace the vapor barrier.

Renovations began with the vapor barrier, which is a thin layer of material added into walls to help control the flow of moisture in or out of a building. Although the UMFA already had a vapor barrier, it was due for an update. Dietrich said the standard for art museums requires 50 percent humidity, which can be difficult in Utah’s desert climate.

“So that was the beginning of the very first reason for the construction project,” Dietrich said. “But then we decided, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, to really think about everything … and we really re-thought how the museum works for our visitors … and how we could better help our visitors to have really happy, fun, engaging experiences with the art.”

Dietrich, who was appointed executive director in 2010, also said one of the museum's goals was to include more diversity.

“We definitely have been interested in showing more work by women and people of color, and you can see evidence of that in a number of the collections,” she said. With the reimagined Oceanic gallery, the new African and Chinese galleries as well as the museum's American, Regional, European, Egyptian and Greek and Roman collections, the UMFA is bringing the world to Utah.

The renovations will also offer new opportunities for artists to show their work in the ACME (Art. Community. Museum. Engagement.) Lab, a new space for community engagement and artistic experimentation in the museum. Dietrich said they've been running ACME sessions, which includes community programs and discussions, at the Salt Lake City Public Library since the UMFA closed. Visiting artists and sisters Las Hermanas Iglesias will debut their exhibition in the new UMFA ACME Lab during the re-opening party.

Tassie, who has been with the UMFA since 2012 and is also the curator of modern and contemporary art, said she hopes visitors feel welcome when they visit the UMFA.

“I hope that they feel like it’s their museum,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work to make it that way … all geared towards engaging our audience and to trying to push down some of those barriers, perceived or otherwise, to coming to an art museum. … (We’re) trying to help people not feel like there’s only one way to experience an art museum, (and) to empower visitors to explore their art museum with their own thoughts.”

If you go …

What: UMFA reopening party

When: Aug. 26-27. Saturday 10 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Where: Marcia and John Price Museum Building (410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City)

How much: Free. Check out a full schedule of events at