Sculpture Revitalizes Downtown St. George, Utah

Amid red rocks and blue sage, an amazing transformation has been unfolding in southern Utah that highlights the power of visual art.  Today the city of St. George, Utah hosts one of the West’s most dynamic outdoor sculpture exhibits, known as Art Around the Corner. “It’s the shared vision that makes this work,” says Susan Jarvis, current Chair of the Art Around the Corner Foundation. “The outdoor show involves civic leaders, business owners, patrons, citizens, dedicated volunteers and of course artists, collaborating to uplift our community.”

St. George lies in the southwest corner of Utah, an area known for outdoor recreation and fantastic scenery, within easy driving distance to three national parks, Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon.   And now, thanks largely to Art Around the Corner (AAC), the city has a growing reputation for publicly-displayed sculpture and a bubbling art scene.

AAC’s first sculpture exhibit was held in 2004, and the show has steadily grown since.  Entries are jury-selected and each April around 20 pieces from well-known sculptors are chosen for installation, primarily along Main Street and in the historic Town Square.  

Larger works are mounted in the center of traffic circles while others line pedestrian areas.  By agreement with participating artists, sculptures remain in place throughout the year for everyone’s enjoyment. During those 12 months, businesses, institutions and individual collectors can purchase pieces.  Part of the proceeds are retained by AAC, a registered non-profit organization.

When an exhibit closes, buyers can move their chosen sculpture to an office building, home or selected location.  But many choose to keep it on permanent display in the downtown area, enabling St. George’s collection to grow to over 40 pieces.  “It’s been really effective,” says Shawn Guzman, City Attorney and member of the AAC board. “Essentially, we’ve created an open-air gallery that helps artists sell their work, and benefits sponsors and buyers, the city, and of course our residents.  It’s been a great catalyst in so many ways.”

City leaders have seen how public art improves the sense of community, instills a sense of pride and ownership, and raises property values as well as people’s spirits.  “It has clearly played a key role in revitalizing our historic downtown.” says St. George Mayor, John Pike. “Visitors and locals enjoy the growing collection, and we’ve created vibrant spaces around the pieces.  There’s also a definite ripple effect. Art Around the Corner fosters a frame of mind that I believe has had substantial positive effects in our local economy and civic life.”

City Councilwoman Bette Arial has similar sentiments. “You know, I love the sculptures in our downtown, but they’re much more than art for art’s sake.  We see real positive impact on the city’s economy. These artworks bring people, foot traffic and economic activity. It’s a material investment in our city.”

This year’s exhibit includes an engaging cross-section of works, representing various genres and artists from several states.  There’s a dramatic car-and-driver piece by internationally-known automotive sculptor Stan Wanlass, a life-sized George Washington by Gary Price, and a huge, imposing bison made from recycled metal by Tim Little.  There are entries from Colorado, Washington and Texas, though most are from Utah sculptors. Other artists on display are Doug Adams, Matt Clark, Chris Coleman, Karen Crain, Mont Crossland, Annette Everett, Deveren Farley, Dan Hill, Ben Hammond, Franz Johansen and his son Nate Johansen, Jack Morford, Scott Rogers, Patrick Sullivan, Dan Toone, Josh Toone, and L’Deane Trueblood.  

So, if you find yourself travelling between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, pull into St. George and enjoy one of the region’s best outdoor sculpture exhibits.

Cindy Trueblood