Artist of the Week: Gretchen Dietrich


Gretchen Dietrich (Courtesy UMFA)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


Gretchen Dietrich, current executive director at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, has had an illustrious career in art history and education. Renowned across the country for having worked at some of the most prestigious institutions and now sitting at the helm of Utah’s flagship art museum, Dietrich is armed with some exciting developments.

Though not an artist in practice, Dietrich is entirely devoted to its rich history and promotion. “I fell in love with art museums and knew I wanted to work in the field. I especially love talking with people about art, so I got a MA in art history and began working as a museum educator,” Dietrich said. Her work has taken her across the country in various positions, including leading educational programs — like the elementary school partnership she co-founded in Boston — or working in directorial positions — such as stepping in as the UMFA’s interim director in 2009 before becoming the executive director in 2010.


Dietrich Grows with the UMFA 

“When I moved to Utah I had 20 years of experience in art museums, and the UMFA was the one I was most drawn to,” Dietrich said. When asked about what aspects of this museum were so enticing, Dietrich referenced nearly everything: the outstanding preexisting collection, the beautiful space itself, the staff she gets to work with and the “unique” challenge of serving both a campus community and the Salt Lake Valley at large. “We ask ourselves, a lot, ‘How can this wonderful museum matter more in the lives of our students and citizens?’ We’ve presented, borrowed and acquired world-class works of art, and we’ve increased our outreach efforts to campus and community. It’s my hope that the UMFA feels exciting, vibrant and connected in increasing ways to more and more people.”

Part of the UMFA’s many outreach projects has been a partnership with the new foundation Art Bridges. Founded by philanthropist and art enthusiast Alice Walton, the organization seeks to share some of the most meaningful, historical pieces of American art with institutions and their patrons across the country. Dietrich has been appointed to its newly formed board of directors, joining the ranks of historians, scholars and executives from some of the most renowned institutions in the country. Dietrich’s appointment was acknowledged by University President Ruth V. Watkins, who said, “This is a well-deserved recognition of Gretchen’s expertise and stature among museum leaders across the country. Under Gretchen’s management, our Utah Museum of Fine Arts continues to reach new heights. This prestigious appointment elevates Gretchen’s impressive work to the national stage.”


Art Bridges, the UMFA and Dietrich 

The partnership Dietrich has started with Art Bridges and UMFA has already started bringing new works to the patrons. In addition to the over 20,000 pieces of art that the UMFA has in its collection, spanning all periods and styles, Art Bridges has brought several new products to their galleries. Currently on display is this Diego Rivera’s “La Ofrenda,” depicting children in front of a Dia de Los Muertos altar. He is known not only for his murals across Mexico and the United States, but also for being Frida Kahlo’s husband. Dietrich said, “But he was an art superstar when they met.” On loan through October of this year, this installation has helped UMFA partner with Salt Lake-based non-profit Artes de México en Utah and promote the work of often-overlooked Mexican artists. “Great art, I have always believed, opens our eyes to the experiences of others and allows us to connect personally to the past, present and future across time, distance and difference.”

One of the biggest projects between the UMFA and the Arts Bridges foundation is a five-year exhibition share with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently, the UMFA is hosting three iconic pieces of American art. In the months to come, Dietrich anticipates even more collaborations from special exhibitions to sharing more collection pieces to conducting more outreach in efforts to make art more available to current patrons and those who have yet to step inside the museum. Dietrich said, “We want to show art and create programming that surprises and delights our visitors, that brings people together and gets them talking about what they care about. We’re deeply committed to broadening our collective understanding of art — and who makes art.”

This awareness towards great pieces of American art is all about letting unsung voices be heard. “For many years now, we’ve been showing and collecting more work by women artists and artists of color to draw into the conversation some voices that have been marginalized.”

Under Dietrich’s leadership, the UMFA continues to grow and inspire generations of art enthusiasts, from students on our campus to members across the community. Everyone will be able to see themselves represented or heard within the pieces they interact with. “In addition, we’re working to reach out to people who don’t often visit the art museum — to turn each and every one of them into lifelong lovers of art and museums. That’s a lofty goal, but we do great work and receive such praise from our visitors. We’re on the right track,” Dietrich said. “Learning how to navigate these spaces, to find one’s way through a cultural organization and to make it work for you, is a powerful lesson that will hopefully result in countless hours of art-looking and museum-wandering throughout a person’s life — no matter where they are in the world. That is a wonderful gift the UMFA can give.”


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