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Utah unveils 20 semifinalists for new state flag

Sep 8, 2022, 2:16 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2022, 9:46 am
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SALT LAKE CITY — The quest for a new Utah state flag is moving forward after state officials narrowed down over 7,000 submissions to 20 semifinalists.

The Utah Flag Task Force unveiled the semifinalists on Thursday after member Sen. Daniel McCay leaked a preview of 19 of the flags on Wednesday.

“Each design is inspired by a Utahn (or many) and represents hours of collaboration and volunteer design work. They are rich with meaning and share a strong connection to Utah,” McCay said.

Utahns can give their feedback on the semifinalists here through Oct. 5. Descriptions of each semifinalist can be found on the task force’s website.

“The new flag will be one that people can point to and say: ‘I was part of the evolution of that flag,’” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight of the Utah Flag Task Force.

Semifinalist flag designs will be unveiled in a press event and exhibition at the Utah Capitol on Sept. 22 with flag exhibitions installed in Cedar City and Logan.

“What we have here, in the 20, in many cases, is a combination of ideas,” Jill Love, executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, and a member of the task force, told KSL.com. “We tried to get the public in these (20 designs) — the best of the best that represent the significant symbols that we heard were important to Utah. And that includes colors, too.”

After the public comment period ends in October, the design review committee will narrow the field again to four to six finalists.

From there, the flag task force will present a finalist or two to Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson, who will present their choice to the Utah Legislature in a special session.

The process is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Utah state flag history

Utah’s original flag was created in 1903 to be used at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Utah Gov. Heber M. Wells asked the Daughters of the American Revolution to oversee its creation.

The blue flag with the state seal and the year 1896 in white thread was known as the governor’s flag until 1911.

A gold seal was added and the seal was colorized in 1912, and the Utah Legislature officially adopted the changes in 1913.

Technically, Utah’s current state flag was officially adopted in 2011 after an error was introduced in 1922 and went unnoticed for 89 years.

In 2011, John Hartvigsen, a vexillologist or flag expert, said, “The 1847 was moved from its correct position right below the word Utah on the shield, to a place below the shield. That has been followed by flag manufacturers ever since, even though it’s incorrect.”

A joint resolution fixed the error, moving it back to its correct spot on the shield, which was also colorized. Minor changes to the bald eagle and sego lilies were also made.

Utah state flag from 2011-2022

Why now?

A common question that has been presented to the task force so far: Why now?

The task force has a section of its website dedicated to the question, which says task force members “believe that designing a new state flag offers Utahns the chance to talk about who we are now. It’s a chance to talk about bigger questions that get to the heart of our identity nowwhile still honoring and building upon our history.

“A new flag can draw upon our history and be a symbol in a bigger initiative to think about what unites us. A new flag could be one step in helping all of us, together, face our pressing issues.”

State leaders have also said the flag should have a simplified design that is more iconic — much like flags in neighboring Colorado and New Mexico.

This image from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office shows the state’s flag.

“Utah is a very distinctive state, but our current flag blends in with many other state flags. We can do better,” McCay said. “The new state flag can be simplified with a design that is both innovative and memorable.”

Gov. Cox has previously referred to the current state flag as an “S.O.B.” or “seal on a bedsheet” — a joke term from the vexillology community for a flag that uses a solid color (most commonly blue) background and the official seal or coat of arms of whatever it is representing as the main feature.

A survey of Utah residents said nearly half are proud of the current flag, but only one-third would wear the flag on clothing or as an accessory.

A graphic showing all 50 U.S. state flags. Utah’s flag is highlighted in red. It’s one of 24 current flags that’s nearly identical to each other, per Utah State Flag Task Force members. (Photo: State Flag Task Force)

In the survey, 36% indicated they would support a redesign while 35% wouldn’t. The remaining 29% said they neither support nor oppose a change.

Once a new state flag is chosen, officials said the current state flag will become the governor’s flag and will still be flown publicly. The state seal, which is displayed on the current state flag, will also remain in place.

“This is not an effort, at all, to take away our history,” Handy said. “This is an effort to modernize a symbol of our great state.”

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Utah unveils 20 semifinalists for new state flag