The Underappreciation of Arts at the U


Xiangyao Tang

The Art and Art History Building on the Univeristy of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Jan. 31, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Edie Raines, Copy Editor


If you were to ask anyone what the University of Utah excels at, you would certainly hear medicine, maybe engineering, and depending on how the season went, you might even be told football. But have you ever heard someone brag about our arts programs? Probably not.

Honestly, this is fair. Programs like medicine and sports are what bring the U money and prestige. However, the extreme emphasis on certain programs inherently leads to a de-emphasis, and thus a devaluation, of other programs.

How does it feel to be a U student and not identify with sports, business or medicine? Are you sick of being asked, “What are you going to do with that?” every time you tell someone your major? Do you feel like you belong? 

Big Business and Big Football

Speaking to two U students, both involved in the arts on campus, their feelings were nearly identical. Both immediately recognized that they don’t feel their interests are regarded as highly by the U community. 

Madeline Myers is studying biology at the U but has joined the school’s Illustration Club and Painting and Drawing Student Association after reading some posters on bulletin boards across campus. When asked if she felt the university regarded arts as highly as other fields such as sports or business, she responded rather quickly with, “No.”

She continued, telling a story of how she’s been given assignments that had nothing to do with football, but had pictures of U football players on them. Across campus, she’s noticed dozens of banners and billboards supporting businesses or the U sports teams.

“But on the University of Utah TikTok account, I’ve never seen them post anything about art,” she said. “Only sports stuff.” 

This relative lack of representation can make it much more difficult for art students to find a sense of community within the university as a whole. If you’re not interested in sports, and things like dance recitals, art showcases, clubs and concerts are relegated to 8.5×11 posters on bulletin boards that you have to hope someone like Myers will stop and read, you may feel less valued by an institution you pay thousands of dollars a year to attend. You may feel out of place, lonely or underappreciated. 

Justice for the Arts and Architecture Building

Meg Moezzi, an art teaching major at the U, said the undervaluing of arts programs is visually apparent just walking across campus.

“If you look at the Arts building, it’s very run down and the sinks don’t work, and then the U will use the funding for the stadium,” she said. “Not even just at the U, in general [the arts] are definitely seen as less valuable.”

This dichotomy can be seen while walking from the shiny Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, down the inaccessible path to the industrial Arts and Architecture building which opened in 1971. There, the doors are two slabs of wood with chipping paint, the walls are all a muted gray and the windows have grown dingy with age. The same can be said of the brown labyrinth they call the LNCO building. It’s almost romantic in a gothic, Brontë novel sense, but it clearly hints at where the U’s priorities lie. 

Incredible work is still being done inside these austere walls, yet, the underfunding of arts hurts more than students’ aesthetic sensibilities.

“For most of my classes I have to buy new material,” Moezzi said. “They don’t have the funding to provide those tools for us. We have to get them ourselves to be part of it.”

This can make getting a degree in arts, which is already so unaffordable, even less accessible for low-income students. It’s not just materials, either, students often have to front costs for academic trips and transportation, as Moezzi did recently. 

Building Their Own Communities

Fortunately, Moezzi has been able to find a strong community within her major’s cohort, and Myers has found a place to share her art with people who are just as passionate as she is. Yet, the underfunding and undervaluing of the arts is a systemic problem, not just at the U, but at universities across the country. 

There is something we can all do, if not to fix the underfunding, at least to make sure art students feel valued on campus. Support your fellow classmates, check out the events page for the College of Fine Arts and go make use of your Arts Pass. 


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