The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) is encouraging residents of Kanab City and Kane County, as well as other interested parties, to support an effort to build an outdoor performing arts center in Kanab.

One way of doing that is by attending an event on Saturday, January 28, sponsored jointly by the Center for Education, Business and the Arts (CEBA) and the Kanab Arts Council.

Beginning at 7 p.m. at the Kanab High School auditorium, the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo will present some of cowboy poetry’s best, including one from Down Under (where cowboy poetry is known as “bush poetry”).

Australia’s Champion Bush Poet Carol Heuchan will join her U.S. counterpart Dick Warwick, the reigning All-Around Champion from the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo held in Kanab last August.

The pair will headline the event, which combines two of the most significant elements of Kanab’s heritage: cowboys and the performing arts.

Preserving the future of the performing arts is the goal of the event. The performance is free to the public, but donations will be accepted for the completion of Kanab’s new Outdoor Performing Arts Center.

The center will allow Kanab’s rich performing arts tradition to continue. It will replace the city’s old gazebo, which, before it was removed to make way for a new church, had served for many years as a popular venue for outdoor performances. Prior to that, performances took place outdoors on the terraced slopes near the Kanab Heritage Museum.

“Once upon a time, there used to be a repertory theatre right there. It’s associated with the museum. The whole project is built upon the heritage of that area,” says CEBA Director Kelly Stowell.

Kanab City Councilman Ed Meyer, who oversees the arts council, said, “The reason we’re building it there is because that hillside was terraced during the Depression as a Works Progress Administration project, and was used for the performing arts.”

Materials from the gazebo were salvaged and will be used to build the clamshell backdrop behind the stage at the new center, Meyer added.

Combining the material of one former performing center with the historical location of another is symbolic. “This is like a rebirth of the performing arts,” Meyer said.

Work on the new center has begun. A grand opening is planned for June 14, in conjunction with the city’s annual heritage festival, Jacob Hamblin Days (June 14-16).

“It will be a heritage-based dedication,” Meyer said.

It’s that heritage function the MPNHA is encouraging and collaborating with.

“The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area is especially interested in projects that convey history or heritage,” said MPNHA Executive Director Monte Bona. “We’re interested in working with Kanab in a project that can serve as a venue for historical interpretation through the performing arts, and for productions coordinated with the area’s interpretive arm, the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts.”

Once in operation, Meyer said, “We’ll use it for all kinds of performing arts activities, including those that convey heritage.”

Meyer, who also oversees the Kanab Heritage Council as well as the Arts Council, says the two entities have begun efforts to combine and relate arts and heritage to each other.

“The outdoor performing arts center is the focal point to help make that happen,” he said.

The outdoor performing arts center is very much a community effort.

“We want this to be a grass roots project where people join together to build something. We want to show that people can work together to do good things for their community. We specifically are doing this as a community project so that everyone ‘owns’ a piece of what this is. We are building this like an old barn-raising. It’s going to be done by all of us,” Meyer said.

About $30,000 in cash funding has already been raised. Another $31,000 in material or other in-kind donations have been donated or pledged.

There is still about $18,000 in cash, donations, or volunteer work still to go to meet the project’s estimated $80,000 cost.

“We’ve had widespread support for plans to build the Outdoor Performing Arts Center, but we’re asking for more help in general,” said CEBA’s Stowell. To make cash or other donations, contact Ed Meyer at (435) 644-5439 or by email at ed@kekanab.com.

To volunteer to help in construction or in other ways, contact the Kane County Volunteer Center (435) 644-3696 or by e-mail at volunteercenter@kanab.net.

For more information about the Cowboy Poetry benefit concert, contact Kelly Stowell at (435) 899-0443.