A new exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) at the University of Utah celebrates voting rights anniversaries in 2020, including the 150th anniversary of Utah as the first place where women voted in the modern nation. But Utah Women Working for Better Days! is less a history lesson than it is a provocation: What do “better days” look like to you?

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with Better Days 2020, a local organization championing Utah women’s history across the state, and with the U’s J. Willard Marriott Library’s Special Collections, which loaned historical artifacts on view.

Utah Women Working for Better Days! will be on view in the UMFA’s ACME Lab Thursday, March 5 through Sunday, December 6 with a free exhibition preview Wednesday, March 4, from 5 to 9 pm. See below for related events and programs, including voter registration drives at the UMFA.

About the Exhibition

A variety of histories inspired this exhibition, including the story of Seraph Young, a Utahn who became the first woman in the modern United States to legally vote in 1870, and the Utah Legislature unanimously passing the Woman’s Suffrage Bill. The year 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended women’s right to vote across the country, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed race-based discrimination in voting laws. 

“The Utah women who challenged the status quo in the days leading up to 1870 dared to dream of a world in which they had a say in policies that would affect them. They did not wait for enfranchisement to insist upon it,” says Alana Wolf, UMFA’s collections research curator and one of the exhibition’s organizers. “This exhibition proposes that demanding political representation—while immensely important—is but one avenue of creating social change. Civic participation—like art-making—begins, first, with an act of imagination. It dares to imagine a world not as it is, but as itmight be. 

From a late nineteenth-century suffrage songbook, to midcentury campaign memorabilia, to contemporary posters from recent demonstrations, nearly three dozen objects, largely drawn from Marriott Library’s Special Collections, reveal the different strategies that Utah’s individuals and groups have used to participate in civic action. Local artist Brooke Smart’s illustrations of eighteen women introduce visitors to past advocates for Utah women, while interactive components invite visitors to insert themselves into the history of the state and recall the women who have shaped their own life stories.

“While opinions may differ about what ‘better days’ look like, we hope visitors leave this exhibition energized by rethinking their own roles in creating the future in this place we call home,” says Wolf.

Utah Women Working for Better Days! is co-curated by staff members from three organizations: UMFA’s Wolf; Ashley Farmer, assistant director of learning and engagement; and Jorge Rojas, director of learning and engagement; J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections art and archives metatdata librarian Jessica Breiman and reference librarian Alison Elbrader; and Better Days 2020 director Katherine Kitterman and education director Naomi Watkins.

The ACME Lab is an innovative space in the Museum’s Emma Eccles Jones Education Center dedicated to community engagement and art experimentation. The UMFA gratefully acknowledges the support of exhibition and lab sponsor The JoAnne L. Shrontz Family Foundation and curatorial sponsor Sam and Diane Stewart Family Foundation. Support for this exhibition was also provided in part by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and with additional support provided by The Hearst Foundations. The UMFA is funded in part by Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks (ZAP).

Free Public Programs

Voter Registration Drives

*First Wednesdays | March—October | 6–8:30 pm

Third Saturdays | March—October | 1–4 pm

Wednesday, April 29 | 5–8:30 pm

Saturday, October 24 | 10 am–4 pm

Are you a U.S. citizen who will have resided in Utah at least 30 days before the next election? Will you be at least 18 years old on November 3? Has your name, address, or party affiliation changed? If you need to register or change your voter information, we can help! The UMFA is proud to partner in a voter registration initiative in collaboration with volunteers from the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, and the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), who will be on hand in the UMFA lobby to help you participate in upcoming elections. *Note: UMFA admission is free on the first Wednesday and third Saturday of every month.

Because of Her: Stories of Women Making a Difference 

Wednesday, April 29 | 6–8:30 pm | Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium 

Utah women of action share personal stories of women who have made a significant difference in their lives and work. Presented in collaboration with The Bee and UMFA’s ACME LAB exhibition, Utah Women Working for Better Days! We are excited and honored to feature the following storytellers:

Ella Blanchard—Activist, Facilitator, Femme

Erika George—Teacher, World Traveler, Activist

Luna Banuri—Advocate, Policy Analyst, Executive Director

Ciriac Alvarez Valle—Poet, Speaker, Community Organizer

Pilar Pobil—Artist, Writer, Community Builder

Hosted by Giuliana Serena of The Bee. Stories will be followed by a reception and viewing of the exhibition. This event is free, but space is limited. Reserve your seat at umfa.utah.edu/because-of-her. Visitors may also register to vote during this event.

Third Saturday for Families: Trading Cards 

Saturday, June 20 | 1–4 pm | Emma Eccles Jones Education Center Classroom 

Experience Utah Women Working for Better Days! in the UMFA ACME Lab and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Utah women becoming the first women in America to vote. See the trading cards created by Utah illustrator Brooke Smart depicting key Utah women’s advocates from 1870 through the twentieth century. Then create your own trading cards of great women you know to commemorate their successes.  

Hinckley Forum at the UMFA: Women Representing Utah

Wednesday, October 14 | 6—8 pm | Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium

Hear from a panel of representatives, past and present, who are changing the state’s political landscape as the UMFA collaborates with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah to host a Hinckley Forum for the very first time. Guest speakers TBD.