Over the past ten years there’s been a lot of celebrating going on in Zion National Park. In 2009, the park marked the centennial of Mukuntuweap National Monument, established in the summer of 1909 with the stroke of President William Howard Taft’s pen. Just three years ago, the National Park Service commemorated its centennial, having been established in 1916, through the efforts of its first director, Stephen Mather. This year, Zion celebrates its one-hundredth anniversary as an official national park, established by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on November 19, 1919.
While the celebration in 2009 included a year’s worth of events and activities staged in Zion Canyon, this year’s commemoration is highlighted by only a few monumental events, mostly outside the park. “A lot changed in those first ten years when Zion Canyon was called Mukuntuweap National Monument,” says Lyman Hafen, executive director of the Zion Forever Project. “And a great deal has changed in Zion in the last ten years since we recognized its 2009 centennial as a national monument.”
It wasn’t until 1917 that a passable road finally led into Zion Canyon—the result of the combined efforts of politicians, local movers and shakers, and convict labor. “Getting that road built opened the canyon to a few thousand visitors every year, and the place was discovered,” Hafen said.
In the last ten years, visitation to Zion National Park has doubled to a high of over 4.5 million annual visitors. “The difference between 2009 and 2019 is stark,” says Hafen. “The park is doing an heroic job of welcoming and accommodating its millions of visitors, and that’s why most of our signature centennial events will be held outside the park this year.”
Among the three signature anniversary events in 2019, only the Zion Centennial Celebration of Art will be held inside the park. The Utah Symphony concert featuring international rock star Sting, will be held at the USANA Amphitheatre in Salt Lake City, on August 31, 2019. The concert will celebrate the Zion National Park Centennial is a benefit for the Zion Forever Project, which is the park’s official non-profit partner. Proceeds from the concert will go to priority projects in the park, helping prepare Zion Canyon for its second 100 years as a national park. Another major centennial event will be the premiere of a new park film for Zion which will be staged in mid-November at locations yet to be announced.
“Our highlight event in the park will be the Zion Centennial Celebration of Art,” says Hafen. “We’ve planned a distinct, multi-day event during our traditional plein air art week, November 5-10, 2019. We’ve invited ten artists from among the featured artists of our first ten years of plein air events to participate in this year’s celebration as Centennial Artists.”
Hafen said this year’s event will juxtapose the legacy of art in the canyon with the park’s history. “Concurrent with the art activities will be a once-in-a-century exhibit in the Zion Human History Museum of historic artifacts from the park’s archives.”
Arlene Braithwaite is the Featured Centennial Artist. She, along with the other ten Centennial Artists will paint in the park and interact with visitors during the week. Many of the traditional aspects of the Zion Plein Air week will be held with the 11 invited artists. A keynote talk by Arlene Braithwaite will be on Wednesday evening. There will be artist demonstrations on the museum patio by the Centennial Artists on Wednesday and Thursday, an art lecture on Thursday evening, and the invitation-only opening reception on Friday evening. The traditional paint-out and silent auction at the Zion Lodge will be on Saturday.
“The Centennial Artists will each create five original Zion Paintings,” Hafen says. “One will be designated as their ‘Centennial Painting,’ and all their paintings will be included in an online virtual exhibit beginning September 15, continuing through the end of the event in November. Those paintings, along with the plein air work created by the Centennial Artists during the week, will be hung in the museum auditorium for actual exhibit/sale on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 8, 9 and 10.
Hafen said this year’s art celebration is designed to commemorate the first 100 years of Zion as a national park, recognize the legacy of art in the history of the canyon, and honor eleven contemporary artists who have helped perpetuate that legacy in recent years.