Even when the legislature is gone, the Capitol continues to hum

By Maren McInnes
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of 4th graders from Brookwood Elementary crowded around Ann Ricks as she pointed up to the top of the dome in the middle of the Utah Capitol Rotunda. “I’m 5 feet and 4 inches tall,” she told them. She explained that at 165 feet high, 33 people her size would have to stand on her head to reach the ceiling. The students gasped and craned their heads back to see the seagulls painted on the ceiling. Ricks held out her arms and said that even though the seagulls look small, they actually have wingspans of six feet.

The Utah State Capitol building is a hotbed of activity during the 45-day legislative session, but during the off-session, there is still plenty of action.

Workers gave the dome chandelier a once-a-year cleaning before the 2015 session started.

Workers gave the dome chandelier a once-a-year cleaning before the 2015 session started.

The Capitol is a functioning office building. The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor, and state treasurer all have offices in the building and 2,000 to 3,000 employees work in the state office building across the way. Still, the Capitol is open year-round for school groups, scout troops, citizens, and tourists to come and explore. Emmylou Manwill, the coordinator of  visitor services and community engagement, explained that tourists from all over the country, and the world, come to tour the beautiful building. Volunteers give tours of the historic 100-year-old building Monday-Friday, every hour on the hour from 9 am until 5 pm. There are also tours on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. that are usually booked by scout troops looking to pass off their citizenship in the nation merit badges.

“It’s fun to work with little emerging citizens,” Manwill said. She explained that the guides usually try to cater the tour to the group. Often the tours cover the three branches of government, especially during the legislative session. However, Manwill has given many other specific tours. She has a pioneering women tour and is developing a grounds tour that would cover the monuments outside for this summer. She has given tours on the art in the building and the architecture; she even gave a tour to a group of students studying tourism on how to give tours.

The Capitol is run year-round by the Capitol Preservation Board. There are three branches of the board. The first branch is visitor services, which is responsible for tours, answering questions, and directing people who come to see the Capitol. The events and scheduling branch handles all of the events ranging from the signing of HB296 in the rotunda to high school proms. There are events going on most evenings including weddings, free speech events, press conferences, and even the Miss Utah pageant. This department books all of the events, sets up all the chairs, and even unlocks doors to rooms that will need to be used. Finally, the inventory and collections branch keeps a log of all of the furniture and artwork in the building. They curate exhibits and attends to all repair needs.

“We are the stewards of the building,” Manwill explained.

Not only is the building open to the public, the grounds are as well. They capitol grounds are considered a state park and Manwill said she loves seeing people use the grounds.

During the summer, Manwill and her team host another fun event on the grounds: Movies Under the Stars. Each year they play four family-friendly movies—one of which was filmed in Utah—on big blow up screens on the southwest lawn. They usually have between 3,000­–5,000 people come to the free event. Movies Under the Stars began eight years ago, following the reopening of the Capitol after renovations. The goal was to show people that the Capitol is open and the public are welcome. For every movie, local bands perform to open for the event. Manwill recalled last year when the band opening for Frozen played “Let It Go” as their finale, all of the little girls dressed up like Elsa and Anna got up and danced. To find out more information about this particular event including dates and movies, visit the Movie Under the Stars at the Utah State Capitol Facebook page.

Manwill is the only paid employee who works with visitor services—the rest are all volunteers. One volunteer is a junior at BYU studying history. Nathan Spinder, a Utah native, was looking for internships in history and found the Capitol’s webpage. He learned that he could volunteer for four hours every two weeks as a tour guide at the Capitol and the flexibility fit well with his busy schedule.

Spinder, who’s dream job would be as tour guide of the White House, gives tours and helps direct people who come to visit the Capitol. He enjoys learning new facts about Utah—for example, did you know the stoplight was invented in Utah?—and giving tours to international visitors. He recently gave a tour to 15 Brazilian students. Spinder served an LDS mission in Brazil, so he was able to speak with them in Portuguese.

“It’s been super fun,” he said. “It’s friendly. You get to meet new people everyday.” He recommends it for other students who are interested in history or politics or like speaking to people.

“It really helps hone public speaking skills,” Manwill said. She and her team are always looking for new volunteers.

Those interested in applying can email capitoltours@utah.gov.

“It’s the people’s house,” she said. “This belongs to everyone in the State of Utah.”

As Ricks concludes her tour, the 4th graders continue to gawk at the building. She suggests that students return and give a tour to their parent based on what they learned. The students agree—now they can answer questions about the three branches of government, they can tell the stories behind the sculptures, they can recite the history of the building, and they know how big the painted seagulls are on the ceiling of the rotunda.

To find out events or schedule your own tour, visit utahstatecapitol.utah.gov

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