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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Washington County artists say county contest undervalues them

A photo of the current and new county building in Washington County.
Lexi Peery
Washington County is getting a new administration building and parking structure in downtown St. George. County officials have opened a contest for artists to submit their work to go on the parking building.

Washington County recently opened an art contest for a tower at a new county parking structure, but some people in the community are opposed to how it’s set up and say it hurts local artists.

The winner will get $1,000 and their submission will be publicly displayed on the new parking structure in downtown St. George. However, just by entering the contest, the county has the option to purchase all rights to the work for $250.

That’s where Alex Chamberlain, the chair of the art department at Dixie State University, has a problem. He said he won’t be entering the contest under the current rules, and he doesn’t recommend his students participate either.

“Signing over the copyright really is the sticking point for me,” said Chamberlain, who is also a photographer. “Even if somebody doesn't win, they're giving up their rights potentially to their image for $250. It’s not enough to justify the sale of the copyright. $1,000 isn't. If I sell the copyright to my work it’s a lot more than that.”

He said having these restrictive conditions will likely end up hurting the county, since “their field [of entries] isn’t as rich.”

Ron Woodbury is the former chair of the St. George Arts Commission and calls himself an amaetur artist. He wrote a Letter to the Editor for St. George News about the contest and called it an “insult” to artists.

“They would never think about doing that to contractors and landscapers. Yet somehow with artists, it's some sort of a charitable industry,” he told KUER. “The old adage [is] ‘starving artists,’ and maybe that's why they're starving, because they have to give everything up for free.”

A photo of a construction site.
Lexi Peery
Construction is underway for a parking structure behind the unfinished Washington County administration building. County officials want to add a large piece of art to a portion of the structure.

Lee Wiley is an illustrator and animator and has a few art pieces on public display in St. George. He worked with the city and the university to design one of the many artistic bison statues around town. He said the way the county is going about this contest is different from his past experiences. He’d prefer that artists submit portfolios and then work with the county on designing the piece.

Wiley hopes the county will take more input from the arts community, since working on public art was a positive experience for him.

“I love being able to drive by and see my bisons or tell friends that, ‘hey, [that’s] something I created,” he said. “That's such a wonderful thing.”

In a statement to KUER, the county said the terms of this contest are similar to others. They said they understand people’s concerns but said, “this contest may not be a good fit for everyone.”

“Our goal with this was to include citizens in the design of the new building,” the statement said. “We feel a public contest, open to all, is an appropriate way to achieve this goal. The selected winner will receive not only prize money, but have their work displayed in a prominent, public-facing space on one of our new downtown buildings.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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