Why supporters want to build a 300-foot statue at Point of the Mountain, while others are skeptical

Backers of the Statue of Responsibility say they will raise $350 million privately to build it — but they’re asking the state to donate a site at Point of the Mountain.

(State of Responsibility Foundation) A rendering of what The Statue of Responsibility would look like at The Point development in Draper.

Imagine a colossal pillar of two hands, each gripping the other’s arm, rising 300 feet above new development at Point of the Mountain and towering over drivers commuting between Salt Lake and Utah counties.

The Statue of Responsibility, long envisioned as a West Coast companion to the Statue of Liberty, would be nearly the same height as Lady Liberty atop her pedestal in New York Harbor. The monument has been pitched, without success, to coastal cities in Washington state and California over the years since it was first proposed by late Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

Now, its supporters want Utah to donate 5 publicly owned acres to locate the proposed statue in Draper.

The cost of the sculpture — estimated at $350 million — and maintenance of its site would be covered by private donations and grants, according to a vow on the website of the nonprofit foundation behind the plan.

Previous efforts to privately fund the statue have faltered, leading to a split between its sculptor, Gary Lee Price, and an earlier foundation. And the new Statue of Responsibility Foundation, which received tax-exempt status in 2021, disclosed gross receipts of less than $50,000 for 2022.

Leesa Clark-Price, the artist’s wife and the current foundation’s senior vice president, said fundraising will begin in earnest once a building site is secured. And Price said he will waive his commission fee, which could be around $35 million, because the monument is “so important” to them.

Price was inspired by what Frankl said about the balance between liberty and responsibility, he said.

“Frankl said that, ‘We had our freedoms in Austria, Europe; we lost them due to irresponsibility,’” Price said. The connection between the Statue of Liberty and the statue that Frankl wanted to see, Price explained, is that “freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

Utah would be a good home for the statue, Clark-Price said, because the state “embraces the arts, the message and it feels like the right place. … Utah is known as the place where somebody doesn’t have to lose for everybody to win.”

Clark-Price and other statue supporters have fostered connections with Utah leaders. One of them is Clark-Price’s brother, former Utah House Speaker David Clark — who sits on the foundation’s board with her.

The other board members are Bill Fillmore, the sculptor’s lawyer, and foundation president and CEO Steve Cohen, a veteran broadcast executive who was once president of KTVX-TV in Salt Lake City and most recently was the longtime news director of KUSI-TV news in San Diego. Clark, Cohen said, was “very helpful in putting us in line with the folks that were open-minded about an artistic endeavor of this scope.”

A turning point in locating the statue in Draper came last November, Clark-Price said, when Gov. Spencer Cox spoke in support of the proposal as backers presented their plan to the agency tasked with redeveloping the massive former site of the Utah State Prison.

The potential multibillion-dollar project — known as The Point — is overseen by Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, governed by a 13-member board. Alan Matheson, its executive director, said the Statue of Responsibility proposal has gone through its first screening step to see if “it is consistent with the vision” of The Point, but there’s no timeline on when or if it will be approved.

The land authority’s board in November did not publicly discuss what financial guarantees it might require to enforce the foundation’s commitment that no further public dollars would be spent on the monument, either as it is built or for its maintenance for decades to come.

The power of public art

The consensus plan for The Point calls for a mix of businesses and housing in a sustainable community complete with open space, trails and other amenities.

While it is considered the state’s largest-ever public redevelopment project, it is also expected to be the home of an extraordinary investment in public art, expected to be at least $1 billion.

That process — which is separate from the statue pitch made directly to the board — is starting with the public, with urban planning firm Designing Local convening the first focus groups this month.

“We do not believe that there has been another project like this anywhere else in the country that has been this volume of investment and public art,” said Amanda Golden, managing principal and co-founder of Designing Local, which is consulting with the state land authority.

Choosing public art, said Monty Paret, associate professor of art history at the University of Utah, should be “a transparent and inclusive process [that] involves many different voices and stakeholders.”

Paret questions whether the Statue of Responsibility — proposed by a foundation whose board he describes as “a few people and their big corporate lawyer” — fits that ideal.

“There’s suddenly this government support for what feels like a private vanity project of a very small number of well-connected people in Utah,” Paret said. “That’s not the best way to create public art.”

Public art and monuments often “are the objects to help us tell our stories about ourselves,” he said. " … They can become an important kind of catalyst and focal point for how a community, nation or people think about their own histories, stories and identities.”

One example Paret cites is the monument to Brigham Young at This Is the Place Heritage Park. “It tells a certain story about Mormon arrival into the valley and commemorates that story, and then becomes a place for commemoration of that,” he said.

Golden said her team will be listening to hear what kind of art Utahns want to spend public money on.

So far, “at the center of everything that we hear, we believe that public art should bring pleasure and bring joy,” Golden said. “At the heart of every person’s desire. They want to see beauty because it makes them feel happy and joyful. And that’s what we’re really seeking to do.”

(State of Responsibility Foundation) A generic rendering of what The Statue of Responsibility would look like.

Why is Utah the place?

As Cox spoke before The Point’s land authority board, known by the acronym POMSLA, in November, he made his case for why Utah is the place for the statue.

“We used to be a nation of architects and now we’re a nation of arsonists,” Cox 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.”

In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, Cox noted: “Everything at The Point will be developed by the private sector, so this is not an unusual proposal.”

POMSLA is evaluating the plan, “so we’ll see where that leads,” Cox said. “We’d love to see the statue find a home in our state, whether it’s at The Point or another site.”

Cox appears in a video posted on the foundation’s website, holding a plaster model of the statue and meeting with Price and other backers. But the statue’s backers are adamant, Clark-Price said, that the statue is not a political symbol.

She noted the resonance of putting the statue, with one hand reaching down and another reaching up, on the site of a former penitentiary.

Cohen said that when he first presented the idea to board members overseeing development at The Point, he told them “it wasn’t about politics … I explained to them the general philosophical basis of it, and what responsibility in civic government means.”

The state of Utah will maintain ownership of all land at The Point, Matheson noted, and will enter into long-term ground leases with those building on it. From the beginning, he said, POMSLA has heard from the public, including state leaders, that they want an “iconic feature that truly distinguishes the site.”

“We’ve had a number of public surveys done, where we’ve asked people what they’d like to see, what an iconic feature would be,” Matheson said. “The vast majority of people wanted something of scale, an architectural feature that reflected Utah themes. So we’ve been open to those kinds of ideas and are still fairly early in the process.”

POMSLA’s board is independent, Matheson said, “and I think they’ll look at the project objectively and independently. I’m sure that the governor’s support for this proposal will be one of the factors that board members will consider, so it’s certainly relevant, but probably not determinative.”

Utah’s tech sector is expected to have a significant presence at The Point. Matheson said there have been no concerns mentioned by that community about the statue.

“Some in the public have expressed concerns about the size — and there’s no question that it’s large and would be a prominent feature in the area,” Matheson said. “That is a consideration. … What I can say is that the land authority takes its responsibility very seriously, to make sure that this project lives up to the promise.”

‘A roller coaster’

The ongoing journey to see the statue created “has been a roller coaster, you might say,” Price said.

Frankl first proposed the Statue of Responsibility in his 1946 memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he also described his experiences at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. He also wrote about logotherapy — a school of psychotherapy he devised, which places the search for life’s meaning as a person’s main motivational force.

One of the Americans who took up Frankl’s idea for the statue was the Utah-born businessman and author Stephen R. Covey, who wrote the best-selling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” According to Price, it was Covey who promised Frankl, who died in 1997, that he would make the idea of the statue a reality.

In a 2006 commencement speech at Southern Utah University, Covey boasted of his work to put the statue on the West Coast, specifically in the Puget Sound area near Seattle. Covey, who died in 2012, told the SUU grads that Price’s design was “a magnificent illustration of the interdependence of life.”

Covey’s wife collected Price’s art, so Covey sought out Price to design such a statue, the sculptor said.

Backed by a 2010 resolution passed by the Utah Legislature, Daniel Bolz, president of a previous version of the Statue of Responsibility Foundation, made a pitch to cities on the West Coast to place the statue. Bolz told the San Diego Union-Tribune and The Seattle Times that year that his group was considering sites in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

One location in San Diego that was under consideration, Price said, was Coronado Island.

Cohen said the biggest obstacles to placing the statue in San Diego, where Cohen still lives, were the height and the environmental impact. About 70% of their challenges, Cohen said, were regulations.

The other 30% of the opposition was for “philosophical and political” reasons, because “everything gets politicized in [California],” Cohen said. Clark-Price said they were told to “be prepared for at least 100 lawsuits in California, because California’s culture is kind of that way now.”

In the end, Cohen said, “California has so many gatekeepers. … It’s so difficult to do a bold project like this.”

The Union-Tribune reported other specific objections. In 2010, it said the statue proposal faced questions about which agencies would pay for maintenance, and whether the U.S. Coast Guard (which would be in charge during any emergency at the site) would approve.

Also, people in San Diego’s art community weren’t sold on the idea.

“I do not see where such a gigantic piece of art would be situated that it would not hurt the local environment,” Sergey Gornushkin, a San Diego-area sculptor, told the Union-Tribune in 2010.

Gornushkin said San Diego “is a city that is full of joy and happiness, and I would be worried if there was a 300-foot shadow cast upon it in the form of two giant monster hands.”

Richard Keely, a sculptor and then-associate art professor at San Diego State University, told the paper that large monuments may draw tourists, but “the bottom line is that the work of art should be for the city.”

While efforts to place the statue on the coast stalled, a financial dispute arose between Price and Bolz — causing one high-profile supporter, former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, to back away. That conflict was resolved in 2014, both sides said. (The earlier foundation lost its tax-exempt status in 2016, according to the IRS, because it didn’t file its required forms after 2012.)

Meanwhile, Price carried on — constructing a 15-foot prototype that was unveiled in 2013 at Utah Valley University in Orem. It’s there today, outside the Losee Center.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Statue of Responsibility at Utah Valley University in Orem, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

Zoning and responsibility

If the statue is built at The Point, it’s unclear what zoning or environmental standards would be applied. POMSLA’s latest design framework for The Point anticipates buildings above 12 stories, and portions of the plan’s office district, adjacent to Interstate 15, are mentioned as appropriate for higher buildings for maximum visibility.

But there don’t appear to be specified height limits. As proposed, the statue would be taller than the Utah Capitol or the Salt Lake Temple.

Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said that generally he could see how Utah’s political culture would be “a little bit more willing to embrace this kind of statue.”

The ways liberty and responsibility are articulated in current political science comes down to who you ask, Burbank said.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French government that arrived in the United States in 1885, came to be seen as a symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving at nearby Ellis Island. The concept of liberty embodied by the statue has “really become quite iconic,” Burbank said, “and we tend to use that in a very positive way.”

The meaning of “responsibility,” particularly in discussions in political science, is a bit different, he said.

“The emphasis tends to really heavily be upon government and the individual citizen, and what’s that relationship?” Burbank said. “When the governor talks about the need to have responsibility, the responsibilities of individual citizens to the state or to the broader public, those are still pretty much a minor theme.”

Cohen said that “the statue itself, to be very clear, is a gift to the people of Utah and to America. It is meant to be funded by donors [and] philanthropic institutions. … I don’t think we had any dollars from anyone, anywhere, that is an elected official.”

The statue is “not designed to be funded by the state of Utah in any way other than the land grant,” he emphasized.

The new foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, states on its website that the statue will “be wholly funded by private citizens’ donations, donations from grants, businesses and corporations. There will be NO public funds used in any portion of the statue, the grounds of the monument or future/generational upkeep.”

Clark-Price said she and her husband have put in “untold amounts of money personally, trying to fulfill Viktor’s dream.” It’s difficult to put an exact price tag on the statue until they secure a site, she said, but $350 million would be a good estimate.

There have been various iterations of the statue, Price said, and along the way he added a crescent-shaped arc with pieces of stained glass up one side of the statue.

“If you were to continue this arc, it creates a big giant globe,” Price said. “At the bottom, the stained glass with the blues and turquoise is going to represent the waterways of the planet.” The blue at the top represents the sky, and the bright colors in between stand for the world’s plants and animals.

The arc, Price said, is a symbol of how people should “be able to respect and honor each other. … Instead of creating this conflict, let’s create this coming together.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.