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PARC Collective: Championing Contemporary Art in Utah

Founded by three BYU art alumni, Utah’s newest contemporary art platform aims to create opportunities for working artists within the state

In addition to their status as BYU alumni, the founders of PARC Collective — Utah’s latest contemporary art initiative — all have something in common. After graduating from BYU, they earned MFAs in communities that embrace alternative gallery spaces, including Chicago, IL, Baltimore, MD, and Eugene, OR.

Their graduate experiences built on a foundation nurtured during their undergraduate years by then-new professor Daniel Everett, who regularly curated exhibitions for student artists. Upon returning to Utah post-graduate school, Tiana Birrell, Art Morrill, and Ron Linn hoped to perpetuate the same DIY energy they experienced as students. They reconnected in Utah and, after consulting Associate Professor Chris Lynn, launched the curatorial collective that became known as PARC.

Since its inception in 2019, PARC’s goal has been to strengthen Utah’s art community and to create opportunities for artists — particularly within contemporary art. While members of PARC commend Utah-based galleries and museums for their work, they view themselves as meeting a crucial need for contemporary art spaces and resources. “We wanted to create something that will grow and afford artists the opportunity to branch out and build their career here in a viable way,” Morrill said. “They don’t have to go to a bigger art hub in order to have a fulfilling experience as an artist.”

Last December PARC hosted its first exhibition, “dis/place,” at Provo Studio, which featured 17 Utah-based artists and six writers, and was intended to be the first installment in a quarterly series. But Provo Studio shut down shortly after PARC’s inaugural show, motivating the founders to interview artists around the state in the interim. In conducting studio visits, they connected with Sarah Waldron Brinton, another BYU alum who soon joined the team.

Incubation Period: A Virtual Exhibition

When COVID-19 hit in March, it was Brinton’s idea to launch “Incubation Period” — a virtual exhibition curated from Instagram submissions and named for the dual usage of “incubation period” related to both the coronavirus and the creative process. In response to the pandemic, “Incubation Period” explored questions regarding social isolation, distancing, quarantine, and creativity. Artists applied to the project on Instagram using the hashtag #PARCincubationperiod, and PARC members curated a continuing exhibition from submissions every two weeks — mimicking the two-week lifecycle of the virus. Over the course of eight weeks, the work of 40 artists was featured on PARC’s Instagram page and website, and in Granary Arts’ permanent archive.

Despite its Utah roots, “Incubation Period” grew into an international show featuring works from a variety of states, Great Britain, and Mexico — connecting artists around the world during a time when, as Brinton said, “everything felt very disparate.” Ultimately, two platforms emerged: (1) the official exhibition on PARC’s Instagram page, and (2) the hashtag #PARCincubation period, which continues to grow. “It exposed a part of curation that isn’t often visible to artists, which is how many people submit and what they’re submitting,” Morrill said. This put both PARC and submitting artists in a vulnerable position — artists, because their work could be publicly rejected, and PARC, because their responsibility to preserve and support the vision and ideology of the group inevitably excluded compelling art. [Artists from Utah] don't have to go to a bigger art hub in order to have a fulfilling experience as an artist. “The ‘secondary’ exhibition space of the hashtag became this radical space where those two vulnerabilities collided,” Linn said. “What arose as kind of a necessary function of operating through Instagram, became this really beautiful way to talk about the democratic nature of art, and its refusal to be classified or contained.”

Building a Community

The newest member of PARC, alum Aloe Corry, joined one year after her return to Utah from graduate school in northern England. In her MFA program at Northumbria University, Corry was active in the local art community where artists were known for making their own opportunities.

“I was really happy that PARC was trying to re-energize that post-school, professional artist experience, trying to keep the dialogue going and contribute to it in a meaningful way,” Corry said. “I also really like their nomadic ethos and their willingness to be a flexible structure.”

Corry’s membership comes during a significant point in PARC’s development, when the organization is gaining traction and building its role within Utah’s art community. PARC recently launched “Chain Letters” — its newest project involving disposable cameras and the classic chain letter trope. The venture is designed to create a collaborative work of art through each chain, which invites artists to respond to each other and further expand the sequence. Every participant becomes part of a larger community project, sharing and strengthening connections between artists inside and beyond Utah.

A second series of projects currently in the ideation stage will provide a unique virtual curatorial space centered on building new ecosystems and gathering places: PARC PARK. Follow PARC on Instagram at @parccollective for details coming soon

A detail of selections from "Incubation Period"

Regular Programming

Among the PARC members, several teach adjunct at BYU, two are parents, and all work full- or part-time in addition to making art. PARC was created in part to expand their own opportunities for connection. For Corry, who works full-time as the grants coordinator at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City, becoming part of PARC has sustained her during a challenging time.

“I came back from England and was trying to get my feet wet, trying to figure out what I want to do, and then the pandemic hit and everything was disrupted,” Corry said. “With PARC, I’m able to regularly meet with people about making the arts count in Utah.” From the beginning, PARC has been flexible and adapted quickly to unexpected changes. While they hope to stay flexible, they are also working toward having a dedicated physical space in Utah. “Most importantly, we want to have regular programming that people can look forward to,” Morrill said. “As we figure out a model that works in a virtual space, you’ll start seeing regular programming coming from PARC.”