The field of 5,703 designs submitted to potentially replace Utah’s state flag has officially been whittled down to 20.
The Utah State Flag Task Force on Thursday unveiled nearly two dozen semifinalists that will be considered as possible replacements for the current flag, which has remained mostly untouched since 1911. All of the designs were published online along with descriptions explaining every color and design in the flag; the designs are also up for review and public comment.
“What we have here, in the 20, in many cases, is a combination of ideas,” said Jill Love, the executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, and a member of the task force. “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.”
Members of the task force and a design review committee — a group of over 20 people composed of vexillologists, historians and other experts from all over Utah — began reviewing the 5,703 designs submitted earlier in the year back in June. Love said there was an “extensive” process to narrow the field down over the ensuing months, spending hundreds of hours piecing together 20 designs to choose from.
Thursday’s announcement came a day after Utah Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, a member of the task force, leaked an illustration Wednesday evening of 19 of the 20 Utah-themed flag designs on Twitter. McCay wrote every design was “inspired” by a Utahn and represents “hours of collaboration and volunteer design work.”
“They are rich with meaning and share a strong connection to Utah,” his tweet read, in part.
All of the designs highlight themes, symbols and colors that emerged from previous public comment periods. Themes like mountains, nature industry and the outdoors rose to the top, along with symbols like a beehive, mountains, snow, the Great Salt Lake and the famed Delicate Arch at Arches National Park.
These patterns emerged throughout the design review process, too. Love explained that members of the committee and task force found that they needed to find the strongest examples of these recurring symbols and themes.
“There were thousands of designs, (and) probably 60% of them contained a beehive,” she said. “A large enough percentage that it needed to be represented contained a sego lily, same with the arch, same with the railroad/crossroads theme. Those were things we heard both in text and we saw on the designs that were submitted. ... Mountain ranges were another thing.”
In all, nine of the semifinalist designs include a beehive symbol for the Beehive State. Another eight include some form of mountain design, while two specifically include Delicate Arch. Many of the designs also include eight stars or eight-pointed stars, which represent the eight tribal nations in Utah. Three even include crosses in the designs to symbolize Utah being the Crossroads of the West.
Blue, gold, orange, red and white hues also surged to the top in the public comment period, representing all sorts of different meanings. For instance, blue represents knowledge, freedom, justice and optimism, as well as Utah’s sky and water resources. Gold represents Utah’s desert and also prosperity, industry and happiness.
Red and orange are nods to Utah’s red rocks and also represent strength and endurance, while white can represent peace and truth, as well as snow, salt and mountains, according to the task force.
All 20 designs include at least one shade of blue and white, while 11 feature some hue of gold, nine include an orange hue and five include a red hue. Interestingly enough, blue and white were the colors of the original state flag.
“I think staying with some of those symbols or colors is a nod to that history of the original flag,” Love said, adding that a new flag can reach the 60% of Utahns who they found didn’t believe the current flag represents them today.
Utahns can submit their feedback through the More Than a Flag website between now and Oct. 5. The task force will also hold a “pop-up exhibition” on Sept. 22, where all 20 flag designs will be flown at the state Capitol so Utahns can view the designs as in a physical form. Similar displays will be held in Logan and Cedar City.
People won’t be asked to rank their favorite flag designs in this process; rather, they are asked what they like or don’t like with every design. The feedback should weed out some of the designs that don’t resonate with Utah residents and find designs or ideas that Utahns prefer, Love explained. The task force also plans to reach out to state and tribal leaders for their feedback, as well.
Once the round of public comment ends, the design review committee will narrow the field again to four to six finalists. The task force, led by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, will then pick one or two final designs to present to the Utah Legislature for a final vote during a special session that is expected by the end of the year.
Utah has, since 1903, flown its state seal on its flag. The design received a touch-up in 1911 and — aside from an adjustment to fix an error in 2011 — has remained the same for over a century.
But state leaders contend Utah’s flag is in need of an update because they note that it doesn’t really stick out or represent the state as much as it did in the early 1900s. The state began a redesign process last year when the Utah Legislature approved the creation of the Utah State Flag Task Force.
If a new design is approved, the current flag won’t be retired. It will become the official flag of the governor’s office.