Gov. Cox launches ‘More than a Flag’ initiative as part of new state flag process

Jan 19, 2022, 12:09 PM | Updated: 12:58 pm
The Utah state flag, top, and the new commemorative state flag, below, fly atop the Capitol in Salt...
The Utah state flag, top, and the new commemorative state flag, below, fly atop the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre M. Henderson launched the statewide “More Than A Flag” campaign at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday.

Cox also designated Jan. 19 as “More Than A Flag Day” as part of the process for redesigning Utah’s state flag.

Ellen Weist, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement, said the campaign will ask “for ideas about the symbols and colors that would best represent all of us on a new state flag.”

“More than a Flag is an opportunity to think about what unites us — as Utahns,” Cox said. “I believe this conversation can help us come together. A new flag can help us reframe our ideas of what’s important — and to remind us that our state’s greatest days are still ahead.”

Timeline and process for a new flag

Cox and Henderson head the nine-member State Flag Task Force, which was created in 2021. Joining them will be Sens. Jacob Anderegg, Luz Escamilla and Daniel McCay; Reps. Stephen Handy, Robert Spendlove and Elizabeth Weight, and Jill Love, the executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement.

  • January through April 30: Utahns can submit designs here. Public libraries, county library bookmobiles, schools and municipalities throughout the state will receive digital or print toolkits with discussion guides and resources about flag design
  • May 30: Professional artists will be hired to create up to five designs based on public submissions.
  • June 30: Design Review subcommittee reviews all submissions and selects up to 50 finalists
  • July 31: Design Review subcommittee will select 10 finalists, which will be posted on the flag.Utah.gov website for public comments
  • Aug. 31: Deadline for public comments
  • Sept. 15: Three final designs will be presented to the governor, lieutenant governor and Utah Legislature. Together they will decide on the adoption of a new Utah state flag

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 1903-11. Utah state flag from 1913-22. Utah state flag from 1922-2011. 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.”

Design criteria and considerations

Design principles from the North American Vexillologist Association, a nonprofit that studies flags:

  • Be simple. A child should be able to draw it from memory
  • Use meaningful symbolism — images and colors should relate to what they symbolize
  • Use two or three basic colors
  • Avoid lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive: Utah’s state flag should stand out from others

Criteria for submitting a flag:

  • Designs should be submitted on 3- by 5-inch paper or digital format in 3- by 5-inch proportions.
  • Applicants agree that alterations or revisions can be made by the Design Review Committee (applicants will be consulted).
  • Submittals should include the submitter’s name, age (if under 18), contact info, and their connection to Utah. Review committee will not see this information when judging the submittals.
  • Applicants may submit up to three designs. No more than three designs will be accepted from one applicant.
  • Applicants agree to release all rights to the design if the full design or any component of it is adopted as the state flag.


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Gov. Cox launches ‘More than a Flag’ initiative as part of new state flag process