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Jim Jones has spent the better part of 33 years gazing on Utah and Arizona's redrock vistas during a career replicating them on canvas. The Springdale-based artist has produced hundreds of landscape paintings, including many depicting iconic landforms of Grand Canyon and Zion national parks.
Some of Jones' oeuvre will find a permanent home in his hometown of Cedar City, where Southern Utah University plans to build an art museum next year with the help of paintings and property Jones is donating. Jones is at work on a series of 14 landscapes for the proposed museum that local officials expect will cement the city's status as the region's cultural center.
"There are so many good art collections around and no home for them," said Jones, 76, a 1961 University of Utah graduate. "When I was little, my dad took me to the Springville Museum of Art. I was enchanted by this big building in this little town, filled with art. I would like to see that for Cedar City."
SUU President Michael Benson revealed the plans at the most recent Board of Regents meeting, promising to raise the entire $10 million cost from philanthropic and other nonstate sources. That means putting out his hat in the worst economic climate in decades, but Benson and local officials are confident the university can pull it off.
"It's a lofty goal but we have cash and pledges in hand of $2 million," said Benson in a phone interview last week from his office, in which hangs one of Jones' earliest landscapes, a winter-time view of the Grand Canyon.
Officials envision the 28,000-square-foot museum as the first leg of a three-phase plan to develop a university arts complex at the corner of 300 West and University -- a campus gateway spot facing downtown and across the street from the Utah Shakespearean Festival.
"We want to do this without state money to show we are serious. It will also contain a campus welcome center and a little cafe," Benson said.
The museum would house a Jones gallery, exhibition spaces and provide an expanded home for the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, currently in a cramped two-room basement suite in SUU's Braithwaite building.
"It's in the middle of the campus and you can't visit because there's no place to park," said Cedar City Mayor Gerald Sherratt, a retired SUU president. "We're very excited about this. It is something we truly need."
Benson pointed out there are no public art museums along the busy 240-mile corridor between Springville and St. George.
"You have an entire swath of the state that doesn't have a access to a repository for sculpture and art," Benson said. "That's a terrible disservice to the public."
Sherratt isn't worried that museum fundraising will detract from Cedar's acclaimed Shakespeare group, which for years has been pushing a $25 million capital campaign to develop an indoor Elizabethan theater.
"In the end, it will be a major feature in promoting the Shakespeare festival because you will be able to just go across the street to this museum," Sherratt said. The site is university-owned but currently occupied by the city pool, which won't be needed once the city completes its bond-funded aquatics center. Benson hopes to break ground on the museum in August.
Jones' new series of 14 landscapes will go on display at the Braithwaite starting Oct. 15, following an unveiling event to kick off the museum fundraising campaign. The first pledge came in the form of Jones' Springdale home, which he built in the early 1980s on a mesa with views into Zion Canyon. It is valued at between $1.5 million and $2 million and is to be sold upon his death to fund the museum project, Benson said.
"It would be a wonderful contribution. It would be free and open to all," Benson told the Regents. "We talk a lot about science and technology. It should not be lost how important music, art and poetry are in our daily lives."