Excellence in arts awards given to 2 impactful arts champions

ST. GEORGE — The City of St. George Arts Commission, along with St. George Mayor Jon Pike recently presented awards to two St. George residents for excellence and service in the arts.

An overhead view of the Electric Theater, St. George, Utah, Aug. 1, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

The Award of Excellence for Outstanding Service and Achievement in the Arts is given to those in the community who have made an impact in the arts field, be it dance, visual art, theater, film or other forms of art.

The awards are typically handed out in the spring at the time of the Arts Festival, Arts Commission chair Sherlynn Davis said, but because of cancellations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the presentation was made as part of the annual art summit, which was held Sept. 2 at the Electric Theater.

Although the event was not open to the public, Davis said that both recipients had contributed greatly to the arts in the community and deserved to be honored.

The 2020 recipients were former City Council member and arts champion Bette Arial and longtime theater teacher and director Burke Belnap.

‘She lives her life the way she dances’

A high school and college cheerleader, Bette Arial fell in love with dance when she signed up for a modern dance class at Brigham Young University, arts commission member Karman Wilson said at the presentation.

L-R: Summer Robertson, Bethany Gee, Sherlynn Davis, Jon Pike, Bette Arial, Lexie Rynearson and Rebekah Wainright pause for a photo in the Electric Theater, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sherlynn Davis, St. George News

Arial chose the class to fulfill a physical education credit requirement in order to graduate, not knowing it would change her life.

“She looked through the catalog and selected a modern dance class, thinking it would be pretty easy,” Wilson said. “This decision turned her life around. Dancing became her passion,”

From there, Arial added dance to her major, studied dance with University of Utah Children’s Dance Theatre founder Virginia Tanner and received bachelors degrees from BYU in history and dance.

Arial held many positions throughout her career, including working for Congressman Jim Hansen, the Bureau of Land Management and Energy Solutions, and at the presentation it was said that Arial attributed her dance background to part of her success in all her fields of work.

Arial served on the St. George City Council and was the arts representative on behalf of the council.

“She really was just such a graceful person,” Pike said. “We leaned upon her for all things arts.”

As she worked as a liaison between the City Council and the Arts Commission, Pike said she never let the council forget about dance and its important place among the arts.

“I think she lives her life the way she dances – just with joy and with experiencing,” he said, “trying to get every bit of life, every bit of breath, every bit of happiness out of life.”

Arial was unable to attend the presentation due to the death of her husband.

Burke Belnap

Burke Belnap was born in Moreland, Idaho in 1939. He was a farmer.

L-R: St. George Mayor Jon Pike presents Burke Belnap with the Excellence in Arts Award at the Electric Theater, St. George, Utah, Sept. 2, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

“He grew up milking cows, moving pipes and pulling spuds,” his daughter, Summer Robertson, said at the presentation, adding that he was a sensitive and empathetic person whose kind heart allowed him to care for his older brother John with special needs.

Robertson said her father was planning to study chemistry in high school but got “bit by the theater bug” and found himself spending hours at a time in the theater.

In Southern Utah, Belnap dedicated his life to sharing his knowledge and passion for the theater arts with students throughout Washington County both in high schools and at the college level.

Belnap was a makeup artist, technical designer, actor and director who inspired some of the most influential members of the local arts community, including several previous recipients of the Award of Excellence for Outstanding Service and Achievement in the Arts.

Robertson said the reason she was so excited about the award was because she has “known how great he is.”

“I’ve gotten to watch all of his shows and his direction since I was a little girl, and I’ve seen the lives that he impacted,” she said. “So for him to actually be recognized on a broader level just makes me feel so happy.”

Davis said that Belnap’s influence in the arts is a perfect example of what individuals can accomplish in the community and the gifts they can give to others.

In his acceptance speech, Belnap said all of his years in theater have been a “part of the connect on people.”

“The reflection that comes to my mind is, even though the memory is dim and there’s fading away, there are things in this community to keep reminding me of those good days.”

The St. George Arts Commission is a commission tasked with assisting the mayor and the City Council with art opportunity in St. George, Davis said. The commission was organized in the 1970s and has grown from its focus on visual arts and music to including a wide variety of art forms such as dance, theater and film.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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