A new non-profit organization has filed an application with the Utah Department of Natural Resources in an effort to win the lease for the state land on which Robert Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty sits, MAN has learned.
The organization, called The Jetty Foundation, was incorporated in June by art collector and former investment banker Greg Allen. While Allen lives in Washington, he was was born and raised in Utah. Allen is best known in art circles for spending ten years as the co-chairman of the Museum of Modern Art’s Junior Associates fundraising adjunct and for editing the well-regarded blog greg.org. Other Jetty Foundation trustees include Allen’s wife Jean Cottam and Spence Kinard, a Utahan who was a reporter for KSL-TV and the voice of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Kinard has also been the president of the University of Utah Alumni Association and has served on the board of trustees of the University of Utah. He is also a past chairman of the Radio and Television News Directors Association. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Allen for many years and consider him a friend.) [Image: Spiral Jetty on July 2, 2011. Image via Flickr user Bryce W. Garner.]
DNR does not have a formal process by which it accepts a lease application, but Allen said that the DNR’s sovereign lands program coordinator, Ryan Nesbitt, told him that DNR had received The Jetty Foundation’s application and that on Tuesday DNR cashed the check that Allen used to pay The Jetty Foundation’s $300 application fee.
The status of the lease for the land on which Spiral Jetty sets has been an open question since early June. The Dia Art Foundation, which owns Spiral Jetty and which had held the lease since it acquired the work in 1999 and the DNR have been engaged in a month-long process during which DNR is determining whether or not Dia’s lease for the land on which Spiral Jetty sits is up-to-date, and if not whether to simply issue Dia a new lease. That decision – or a decision to award the lease to The Jetty Foundation or another entity – is entirely at the discretion of DNR.
“The idea behind The Jetty Foundation is to give human voices and ears to the artwork within the state of Utah,” Allen told MAN. “A lot of people in the state who care about the work don’t have a forum for expressing concerns and interests or in bringing things that bear on the work to the attention of its owner. If we receive the lease, we would be that forum that provides a local standing for addressing some of these issues. Most are site-related and are not related to the work or its conservation, which I think is Dia’s primary responsibility.”
Allen said that if The Jetty Foundation receives the lease that it would be a Utah-based organization focused on engaging with both the state and non-governmental organizations such as conservation groups on a range of Great Salt Lake and watershed issues that could impact Spiral Jetty. It would also immediately work to add Utah stake-holders to its board, particularly local conservation leaders, museum officials, representatives from organizations with a particular interest in lake-use and the like. Allen envisions that the organization’s budget would be no more than a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, raised from private individuals and foundations.
“The main strength of the foundation should be its board and the positions its members hold in Utah,” Allen said, adding that he is traveling to Utah next week to begin foundation-related conversations. “We’d also create an advisory council, a network of partners and friends and interested people and experts who are involved on an awareness building level.”
Allen stressed that he didn’t want The Jetty Foundation to be seen as a Dia rival, and that he admired the work Dia has done to bring in the Getty Conservation Institute in 2009.
“I made very clear in my application letter that by creating this foundation and by pursuing this lease, we are acknowledging fully the artist’s estate as the owner of the intellectual property of the artwork and Dia as the owner of the title of the artwork (as donated by the estate). I was making no claims on any of those items. I think that’s a distinction that the state itself had not really thought through in its own process. I can envision a time when Dia is represented on the board of The Jetty Foundation [if we receive the lease]. If Dia decides to take on a more active role in engaging the local community and the local institutions there, I can see a foundation taking on a facilitating role. If Dia is, for whatever reason, not doing what it is that the artwork requires, then the foundation would be more active. I think it’s fluid and to be determined.”
However, the emergence of The Jetty Foundation as a potential lessee could be considered a response to Dia’s recent history of trailing Utah-based, Jetty-related developments. In early 2008, Dia was unaware that the possible development of oil resources near the Jetty was reaching a critical point until an email distributed by Robert Smithson’s widow Nancy Holt was published on MAN. Other blogs picked up the story and a blogs-driven campaign fended off that threat. Eight months later a series of posts on MAN revealed that Spiral Jetty was at risk from much more than just that one one possible oil exploration. (A 2009 update found Dia concerned with new mineral extraction proposals and pledging to think “more holistically” about Spiral Jetty.)
As evidenced by the lease expiration, questions remain about whether Dia is as engaged with political and bureaucratic processes in Utah as it might be. Last month Dia director of external affairs Katie Sonnenborn told MAN that Dia is not contributing to either of the state bodies that are considering the Great Salt Lake’s future. One process, the DNR’s Draft Great Salt Lake Management Plan Revision began in February, 2010 and will recommended strategies for making decisions on proposals that come to the state, such as leases related to mineral extraction. Sonnenborn said that Dia did not contribute comment on the draft plan.
The other ongoing GSL-related process is happening before the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, which was created during the Utah legislature’s 2010 session. The Council is examining the existing management of the Great Salt Lake, is making recommendations for improvements and is making available state grants for research. Dia has not been involved with the GSLAC either, though Sonnenborn said that Dia made a presentation to GSLAC’s predecessor body in 2008.
However, according to Lynn de Freitas, the executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, the currently constituted GSLAC is not the same body Dia addressed in 2008. “Unfortunately when the recommendations from the group that Dia addressed, the one created by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, ran through the legislative process, it came through the other side as what we have now, the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council,” de Freitas said. “That means that the what the legislature created kind of re-created the process Gov. Huntsman started. They are almost back to step one.” de Freitas added that the process that Huntsman started would have created a commission with sovereignty over GSL-related development. That kind of commission may be eventually recommended by this version of the GSLAC, an outcome FoGSL thinks is important for the GSL’s future.
A DNR spokesperson has not returned a phone call from MAN. The department last commented on the Jetty lease situation on June 23, when it told MAN that a lease decision was possible by June 24.
Update, 4:23 pm, 7/7/11: Allen blogs about why his new foundation has applied for the Jetty-related lease.