Even in the middle of the day, downtown Ephraim looks fast asleep. Despite being the home of Snow College, the main drag’s highlights include a Maverik, a one-screen movie theater and a liquor store that doesn’t seem open at night and looks suspiciously like someone’s garage.
But on the second Friday of every month, art enthusiasts and students alike brave the twists and turns of Price Canyon and descend upon the Central Utah Arts Center, effectively waking the town from it’s slumber, if only for a couple of hours.
The Central Utah Arts Center, affectionately known as the CUAC (pronounced like what a duck says) hosts almost thirty exhibits a year. They’ve shown nationally and internationally renowned artists such as Fidalis Buehler, Ellina Kevorkian and Masahiro Suzuki.
Right now they are the only artistic organization in Utah receiving support from the Andy Warhol Foundation – specifically, $95,000 worth of support. The past few years have been very good to the CUAC and the people who work hard to support it.
But there is still a glaring logistical problem – it’s all the way out in Ephraim. By car that’s an hour-and-a-half from Provo and almost three hours from Salt Lake. Even if you have a burning fiery passion for all things artistic and have nothing else to do on the second Friday of the month, the length of the drive and the cost of gas is enough to make you stay at home.
“It takes a big commitment to come down there and see the art, “says Jason Metcalf, an artist based in Utah County who serves on the CUAC’s board of directors. “People have asked us why we don’t come up to Salt Lake. But the CUAC is defined by it’s location and the relationship we have to it.”
The CUAC wanted to get more people to their exhibits. However, being unwilling to relocate to a more convenient locale, it left them in what could have been an inescapable nightmare of low attendance and isolation in the unforgiving midsection of the state. But when Sanpete County School District donated an old yellow bus to the cause, Metcalf and the CUAC’s board of directors began taking a cue from an unorthodox source – the Wendover Fun Bus.
Gamblers, drunks and weekend refugees looking for a brief escape from Our Lovely Deseret are already well acquainted with the Fun Bus. For $10, a passenger on the Fun Bus gets a ride to and from Wendover, a free drink coupon, and a free buffet at the Montego Bay, Rainbow or Peppermill casinos. Overachievers can start pulling corks and chugging hooch on the bus, en route to their final destination.
“At first we were going to use this school bus to shuttle people from Salt Lake and Provo down to Ephraim,” Metcalf said. “But getting the licensing and paying for fuel costs was going to be a nightmare.”
Instead, the CUAC gutted the bus’ interior and began using it as a mobile art lab for schools whose arts funding had been cut. But the idea of a party bus – lowercase “p”, capital “A-R-T” and lowercase “y” – remained in their sights. “Finally, we just decided to charter one,” Metcalf said.
Jan.14 saw the jam-packed maiden voyage of the CUAC “pARTy Bus”, spirits high, beer flowing. The atmosphere is very different from your stereotypical art opening.
Gone are the images of milquetoast professors in bow ties jabbering ad nauseum about post-modernism. There are no anemic hipsters pretending to have a bad time. Bottles are clinking. People are laughing hysterically at a video of THE Wizard of OZ, edited so that all of the dialogue is alphabetical.
Some of us are already good and snookered by the time the bus pulls up into downtown Ephraim and rumors are whispered about a prolonged rhythmic thumping in the coffin-sized water closet in the back and two red-faced youngsters emerging moments later. This is more like a senior trip to Cabo than a brief excursion to stare at abstract paintings and confusing performance art for two hours.
However, despite the less-than-introspective nature of the journey, the gallery is packed with people who seem to really be enjoying the works presented. “It’s only about 150 people that came,” Metcalf said. “But it’s quality, not quantity. We had a really good core group of patrons [on Jan.14] and that, to me, is a success.”
Perhaps this is the mission of the “pARTy Bus” – to let people know that an art showing can also be fun, even accessible. “We’re hoping in the future to make the whole experience – including the trip – a part of the art,” Metcalf said. “But right now, people come down, they’re there for the art, and they have a good time. It’s great.”