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Sugar House Journal

That's a wrap. Former Highland student calls it a career as first cultural arts manager

Feb 01, 2018 10h40 ● By Jana Klopsch

Mary Ann Kirk ends a 25-year career leading Murray's cultural arts. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

Six weeks before Mary Ann Kirk, a former Highland High student, became a volunteer for the Murray Arts Advisory Board in 1992, she gave birth to her son Ben; many remember her pushing him in a stroller around the Murray Amphitheatre. Twenty-five years later, Ben watched his mother receive a resolution from the city recognizing her for a quarter century of service as its cultural arts manager.

“I do 100 percent believe that the arts and history are the city’s heart and soul because that’s what connects us together,” said Kirk.

When serving on the first Murray Arts Advisory Board in 1992, she was expected to volunteer 10 hours a month, merely overseeing grants to local arts agencies and use of the amphitheater. That volunteer stint lead to Kirk being appointed to cultural arts manager, and, by the time of her retirement, she had overseen nearly 200 annual events and projects, invited 2,500 amateur and professional artists to participate, and hosted 35,000 to 40,000 patrons from Murray and throughout the Wasatch Front.  

“You can’t think of any of the arts and history programs without thinking of Mary Ann,” remarked Mayor Blair Camp. “She has so much passion and love for this city, for the arts and for its history.”

Murray’s active art scene indeed owes much to her influence. She worked to strengthen relationships with local art organizations by coordinating grant funding and city support for critical facility needs, provided professional training for non-profit administration and developed shared winter and summer seasons, including the Murray Arts in the Park series. 

She also designed and implemented many programs for school-age youth for both large and small numbers of students in a variety of educational and performance opportunities. Murray youth worked with professional artists in after-school musicals; film festivals; school residencies in storytelling, dance, theater, music, secondary school art shows; and touring performances and residencies, such as the Missoula Children’s Theater.

In 2017, Kirk accepted the Governor’s Leadership in the Arts Award on behalf of Murray City Cultural Arts. The award recognized that “Mary Ann’s vision and dedication, paired with tremendous support from the city, elected officials, local art organizations, school personnel, and a contingency of dedicated volunteers, have allowed the arts to thrive in Murray City.”

Kirk expanded the vision of her office by incorporating the preservation and promotion of Murray’s history. This included the development of the Murray City Museum. In conjunction with the museum, she added historical programming that included annual cemetery tours, bus and walking tours, Halloween history events and storytelling.

Seeking to preserve Murray’s history, she coordinated efforts to provide public access to the museum’s large photo collection and created a searchable catalog of other history resources, including family histories and documents. Along with others, she personally interviewed and recorded oral histories of seniors to capture Murray’s story. With the vast collection of history she acquired, she supervised eight history publications and created a mobile app for touring historic downtown.

“The coolest thing about this is that it allowed me to use my talents to create and think of fun things to do for people to enjoy,” she said.

Her imprint on Murray includes many public art projects and history signage including the TRAX station artworks, Costco mural, Jordan River and Murray Park history signage, Murray Park historic overpass, and the smelter plaza at IMC. Crowning her career was the remodeling of the Murray Park Amphitheater.

Even after heading into retirement, Kirk will still be involved in the arts. She and her husband will serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the San Diego Mormon Battalion Visitor Center coordinating its art and history.

To honor her contributions, Murray City hosted a celebration on January 5 where some of Kirk’s favorite local artists performed.

“I can’t go out without doing a concert,” remarked Kirk.

The celebration, planned by Kirk herself (“It’s what I do,” she said), featured performances from the Murray Symphony; Murray High madrigals, percussionists and dance company; soloists and the Viewmont, Grant and Horizon elementary musical casts. 

Performances included music from “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Newsies” to name a few. 

Kirk’s love for the arts started early in her life, piano at age 8 and dance at age 3 when she pretended to be a butterfly. 

Dance provided solace in her life when her mother died of cancer. Kirk was 12 years old. 

“I chose to attend ballet class where I could immerse my troubled soul in a world that provided comfort,” she told the audience at her retirement celebration. Kirk narrated the night explaining the significance of each song in her life.

For example, when her father started dating again, he took his children to see “The Sound of Music” five separate times on five separate dates. The children were told to pretend they had never seen the show before. 

“I think my dad, who was a Marine Corp reserve officer and raising five children alone, chose this show because he wanted a potential wife to understand his current situation,” she said. 

And just as the artistic experiences in her childhood shaped her, Kirk is offering the same to the next generation.

Kirk announced they were establishing a Kirk Family Arts Scholarship of $1,500 to be awarded to a Murray High student each year. It will be based on who valued and made time for the arts in their busy schedules. 

“I believe arts in education is critical for well-rounded and successful adults and much of the programming I worked on was for the artistic experience for our kids,” she said. 

Julie Slama and Travis Barton also contributed to this story.