Cultural Events Now, Culture for the Future

Last August at the LDS Church archives I came across an LDS Public Affairs file about the Primeira Salão Nacional de Artistas Mórmons1 (First National Salon of Mormon Artists), held February 22-26, 1983 in São Paulo, Brazil. The event, which was sponsored by the Church Educational System in Brazil, sought works by LDS visual artists from throughout Brazil and displayed those works at the prestigious Galeria Prestes Maia in São Paulo. More than 600 works were collected and displayed, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, handicrafts, tapestry and engravings.

When I was in Brazil last month I asked local members about the exhibit, but I only found one who remembered the event: an artist who was involved in organizing the event. No one else remembered.

As I understand it, after the show those works of art were returned to the artists, who were located all over Brazil, and over time the works, their creators and the exposition were forgotten. The Church in Brazil has grown substantially since then, it now has more than eight times as many members as it did then–so because of the growth, if not because they forgot, most members know nothing of the exhibition. As far as I can tell, the event was not  repeated, no catalog was made, and the public affairs records are the only remaining indication that the exhibit happened.

I don’t think that the ephemeral nature of this event is unusual. I’m sure similar events, likewise forgotten, have happened in many areas–local members have heard the counsel of General Authorities and local leaders to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause,” and “bring to pass much righteousness.” When these local members are artists of some type, they write and practice music and perform in concerts, they create works of art and mount expositions, and they write poetry and fiction and create books. But the projects they produce do not amount to more than a single event or provide much lasting benefit, and are soon forgotten.

The Church itself does better than its individual members, the cultural organizations they form or even local LDS congregations. The Church has established a museum, a library and theaters. It has established a choir and an orchestra. And it pays salaries for support staffs for these institutions. It sponsors multiple annual pageants. It sponsors ongoing contests and events, purchases art and promotes performances. [FWIW, the 9th International Art Competition is now accepting entries.] It has even translated plays and other materials into other languages and sponsored events in many locations around the world. The Church now sponsors cultural exhibitions as part of the events surrounding each Temple dedication. All things considered, the Church’s support of the arts is really quite remarkable.

Still, this support has its limits, and the Church’s ultimate purpose is not support the long-term development of the arts per se–the arts are simply a means to an end. While many Church-sponsored events and institutions are on-going, local events and even many events planned in Salt Lake, such as the cultural exhibitions associated with Temple dedications, have little or no long-term impact. They are remembered by the participants and some attendees, but don’t include momentos, or anything that might maintain a lasting impact.

I don’t want to suggest that every cultural event or activity must have a long-term impact. That is not realistic, nor is it even what most LDS Church members, or even the participants in cultural events, want. But when the arts we do have are so connected to the LDS Church, so dominated by the culture of the Wasatch front, and so influenced by one institutional style, providing more cultural materials and increasing their impact and longevity can only improve the role and diversity of culture among Mormons.

Lest this be somehow misunderstood, let me make it clear. I am not suggesting that the LDS Church isn’t doing enough or isn’t supportive enough. I think the Church’s support goes beyond what might be expected.

But Church members are often involved in putting together these events, be they independent of the Church, put on by local units, or sponsored by the Church itself. I’d like to see these members broaden their views, and work with the long term in mind. The arts can have a significant impact, when we make the cultural events we plan have lasting impact, beyond the memories of the participants.

1Church Educational System art exhibit compilation, 1983. LDS Church Archives, CR 645 10.

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Events Now, Culture for the Future”

  1. At the risk of starting a threadjack, do you think that the increased centralization of support of cultural events by Church headquarters may have the effect of diminishing support for cultural events outside the Wasatch Front, either because locals don’t want to organize anything without official sanction, or because they see no need to duplicate what’s already being done in Salt Lake?

  2. Katya, I don’t think your comment is a threadjack — to the contrary, I think you are right on the subject.

    I do think that control and centralization is part of the problem, along with a culture that supports centralization and unconsciously assumes that every idea needs to come from headquarters or have headquarters approval.

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