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    ‘Utah’s gift to the nation’ — Statue of Responsibility inches closer to home in Utah

    By Hanna Seariac,

    27 days ago
    An artist’s rendering shows a proposed 300-foot Statue of Responsibility that would be built at the former Draper state prison site. | FFKR Architects

    The Statue of Liberty has become an American icon. It’s a colossal beacon of freedom welcoming the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, the homeless and the tempest-tost, as the inscription says, to American shores where it stands in the New York Harbor.

    More than 2,000 miles away in the Beehive State, there may soon be a companion statue looming 305 feet high as well, known as the Statue of Responsibility.

    Steve Cohen, president and CEO of the Statue of Responsibility Foundation, sat down with the Deseret News at the Little America Hotel to share how the foundation is inching closer to securing a location at the Point of the Mountain in Draper.

    Cohen said the foundation is working toward what he called “provisional approval” for the monument. In total, it would cost around $300 million, he said. “We are looking to raise that money with people of high net worth, foundational money, international money, but we absolutely and positively guaranteed the Utah Legislature no public money. None.”

    Utah wasn’t originally envisioned as the home for the statue — it was San Diego, California. Holocaust survivor and philosopher Viktor Frankl envisioned the statue decades ago and he had lectured in California.

    “Freedom, however, is not the last word,” wrote Frankl. “Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. ... In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

    It was Stephen Covey, businessman from Utah, who brought forward Frankl’s idea of making a Statue of Responsibility, said Cohen. Soon, a group was formed, and sculptor Gary Lee Price joined the project and designed the monument: two hands grasped together. It will be a steel structure coated in aluminum — something Cohen said hasn’t been done on a monument of this scale.

    Price told the Deseret News he chose the aluminum to represent responsibility to our planet. “I think it’s 70% of all aluminum on the planet is recycled and so I think that’s a cool statement for responsibility as far as the material goes, but I wanted a material that would reflect light.”

    It’s also expected there will be stained glass on the monument.

    “If you were to extend that arch, it would represent a giant sphere and it represents all the flora and fauna of all the planets, all the animals, all the base, all the skies, all the sea waves of our planet,” said Price. “We’re not only responsible for humanity, we’re responsible for all of our sustenance.”

    “And I hope that people, if they dig into the provenance and are willing to look a little deeper, that’s what that represents,” said Price.

    This project has been decades in the making and Price even had the opportunity to travel to Vienna to show Frankl’s widow, Eleonore, the prototype in 2004. Covey made the introduction between the two.

    Price said once he showed Eleonore Frankl the 17-inch prototype with the two hands clasping, she grew silent until her face broke into a smile. She asked Price to look at the bookshelf and he saw a wood carving of a man reaching up to the heavens, which Frankl bought after the Holocaust. Eleonore Frankl said her husband would consider the carving and ask, “Where is the hand reaching down?”

    “Gary, my American sculptor, you’ve answered Viktor’s question,” Price recalls Frankl telling him.

    Price said he got emotional and cheerful during this interaction. “It was an instant connection, an instant approval,” said Price. The group went that evening to dinner at an inn named after Beethoven and had what he said was a beautiful celebration.

    Now, two decades later, the statue is on the verge of coming together. “I can’t tell you how exhilarating it actually is,” said Price.

    Cohen said there were two challenges the monument faced: ideological ones and finding a location.

    “Are you a right-of-center viewpoint? Are you left-of-center? And depending on where you are in the political spectrum, I’ve heard both,” said Cohen. He thinks the statue embraces values from both sides of the aisle.

    As for finding a location, Cohen said the group spent a decade in California and faced obstacle after obstacle.

    “If you look from Seattle to San Diego and go up and down the coast and try and find a place that would actually embrace and accept this and give us the land, it was very difficult,” said Cohen. But the foundation would be happy to have the statue in Utah.

    “Unfortunately for the state of California, they have a $78 billion deficit right now,” said Cohen. “Well, Utah doesn’t have one. Utah is fiscally responsible.”

    In addition to fiscal responsibility, Cohen pointed to the “Utah way.” Cohen’s interpretation of the Utah way is people with differences sitting down and figuring out a way forward that’s best for the common good.

    “I think that’s a good place for the Statue of Responsibility because that’s responsible behavior. People not acting out, but people acting toward some goals,” said Cohen.

    The foundation wants to secure $100 million before beginning construction. Cohen said he thinks it’s feasible to do that within a year. There’s a handful of donors who would be willing to put up the necessary funds if the foundation secured a location. He couldn’t give names of the potential donors, but he said around half of them are Utahns and the other half are global.

    “We don’t want to get started like the Statue of Liberty got started,” said Cohen, referencing the fundraising troubles the statue had. “We think that in the current modern environment, which is even more turbulent than when the Statue of Liberty was built, that would be a bad idea.”

    Cohen said he’s optimistic about the prospect of building the statue in Utah. He said he’s met with state leaders from both political parties and had positive reception. One leader in particular has been enthusiastic about the project — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

    When Cox heard about the statue, Cohen said he showed up at a meeting between the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority and the foundation in November 2023.

    “We used to be a nation of architects and now we’re a nation of arsonists,” Cox reportedly said . “We destroy, we tear down, and there’s so little left to inspire us. I believe Utah is still a state of architects, a state of builders. I still believe that we believe in big things. I can think of no other emblem that better represents who we are as a people in this state than the Statue of Responsibility.”

    “This is our opportunity to leave a legacy ... not just to our children and grandchildren, but to the entire nation,” said Cox.

    As for the reaction to the statue across Utah, Cohen said it’s been a mixed bag. There’s been positive reaction from everyday Utahns, but some have reacted differently. Some of the negative reactions have been people questioning why the statue is being built now when groceries are so difficult to buy. Price said some have criticized the aesthetics of the monument.

    “I don’t care if it be traditional figurative art, it could be extremely contemporary art, whatever it is, the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder,” said Price. “And I realize that there are going to be opponents and proponents of the Statue of Responsibility — not only of its design, but what it represents.”

    What Price hopes is that people consider it. “I hope people will dig deeper and are willing to not only recognize instantly what it is, but then also to go deeper to its origins.”

    Cohen has hope the monument could be completed before Utah hosts the Winter Olympics again.

    “I think it’s five years for the entire site to be created the way we envision it, the way our architects envision it, but it’s probably three years to go from groundbreaking to see a 305-foot statue up. That’s our time frame,” said Cohen. The 6-acre space would include reflection pools, a convention center, atrium and a sculpture garden in addition to the monument itself.

    Cohen wants the monument to be seen as “Utah’s gift to the nation.”

    “Utah is definitely unique in the nation in balancing the budget, living within your means, having an outlook that is basically a low taxation outlook, but at the same time, offering the services that are needed for the underserved and people that need help,” said Cohen. He said within the state, there’s a sense of caring for others and philanthropy, naming the Huntsman family as an example.

    This philanthropic attitude is present among the people of Utah, said Cohen, and he thinks Utah is “a microcosm of sort of where America is trying to get to.”

    “Something about Utah — you come in and when you leave, you feel like you’ve gotten something extra, that there’s an additive to who you are,” said Cohen. “Your spirit is lifted. Something is enhanced. You are embraced by people. You feel good about the way Utah treated you.”

    Cohen thinks that’s what the statue is all about.

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