- Scott Renshaw
In 2017 Utah, a work by an openly gay high school student—including an artist's statement addressing its LGBTQ themes—won a Juror's Award at the Springville Museum of Art's 45th annual All-State High School Art Show, where it became part of a touring exhibit that will make its way to state schools and libraries throughout the 2017-18 school year. Yet the most remarkable thing about Dylan Kime's story, is that it doesn't seem like a seismic shift, but rather part of a new normal.
A graduating senior at Highland High School, Kime tells his story at a Salt Lake City coffee shop without angst, laughing often and seeming completely at ease. Though he was born into a Mormon household, his coming-out story seems far more amusing to him than traumatic. "I had been out at school since probably seventh grade, but my mom didn't figure anything out until probably my freshman year of high school," Kime says. "[She] decided to check her browser history, and it was a bunch of gay YouTube videos, and some ... less appropriate stuff. She was, like, 'What the hell is this?' And I was, like, 'Oh. Hi. I'm a homo.'"
That matter-of-fact approach to his identity carries throughout the conversation, and his description of a high school experience he says has been amazing. When he mentions trying out for the ensemble of the school musical as a freshman, he describes it as "sort of your typical homo-in-high-school deal."
In fact, the most anxiety he describes involves the circumstances where he first got into photography, the art form that got him into the Springville exhibition. For his senior year, he signed up for a photography class, but was inadvertently placed in an advanced class, despite his lack of experience. "I went to the teacher and said, 'I have no idea what I'm doing. I think I should drop this class,'" Kime recalls. "And she said, 'No, no, don't worry about it. I'll help you through it, it'll be great.' And she worked with me a ton, and it turned into a huge deal. I feel like I started getting really good at it."
The piece that eventually wound up in the Springville show began as a class assignment. "I got super into it," Kime says, "and wanted to make it something really meaningful. Like, personal. Like, gay."
The concept he developed involved his ex-boyfriend, whom Kime called and invited over for a photoshoot. "I haven't told him this," Kime says, "but I kind of turned it into a tribute to lost love. I told him to make all these faces, look in different directions, all these emotions. I wanted that to be incorporated into my art."
While Kime's teacher, Calleen Lester, believes that Kime's photographic collage is the first queer-themed artwork accepted into the Springville show, the gallery itself was not able to confirm that milestone. According to Ali Royal Pack, of Springville Museum of Art's School and Family Programs, "The work in the High School Show is often very personal and reflective of the students' personal lives. We do ask for artist statements for the works in the show, but not all of the students include them, so there is no way for us to know if that was the first openly queer-themed work."
Kime himself says that he didn't see anything else in this year's show that suggested a similar subject matter, and speculates that his piece might have inspired some less-than-positive reaction. He recalls walking through the museum during the initial reception, and noticing some people looking at his work. "They were kind of giving it glares, whispering about it," Kime says. "I don't know if it was bad or good, but it didn't look good."
Like most artists, however, Kime is probably his own harshest critic, and it has nothing to do with the subject matter of his work. His own impostor syndrome popped up at the awards ceremony, where he first got a chance to see the other work accepted into the Springville exhibition, and says, "I honestly felt like I didn't belong there." His current plans do not include pursuing art as a career, as he attends Salt Lake Community College with a goal of getting an EMT certificate.
Whatever his future plans, though, he begins them at a time when he appreciates the evolution in acceptance for a gay teenager in Utah, telling his story openly, whether through his art or simply through his life. "Just being a high school student, looking around, I have so many queer friends," he says. "I don't hear bashing as much. My friends feel safe. I feel safe. I have older friends in the queer community who have told me horror stories about living in Utah. But being in this generation is kind of great."