Connections between artists and American conservation of public lands are far-reaching. From nineteenth-century Hudson River School paintings of that namesake valley to Thomas Moran’s landscape paintings first sketched during his 40-day immersion in present-day Yellowstone National Park back in 1871, artists have played a pivotal role in protecting public lands in the United States.
Headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and working in concert with the National Park Service (NPS), the National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF) facilitates artist residencies in national parks across the country. In an interview with Hyperallergic, artist and foundation president Tanya Ortega explained that the nonprofit’s genesis began with her first job for the National Park Service at Yellowstone National Park. Insatiable curiosity led a 17-year-old Ortega to explore the park’s archives, where she discovered Moran’s works and educated herself about artists’ roles in establishing the American national park system.
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Ortega’s interest in connections between art and nature led to opportunities for her to serve as an artist in residence in national parks. If she heard about another residency or fielded interest from a park, she would pass opportunities on to other artists and soon realized a more comprehensive solution was required. When she couldn’t find a national organization dedicated to artist residencies in national parks, she founded the National Parks Arts Foundation. The foundation will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2023, and Ortega notes it presently has over 200 parks on its waiting list.
Bordered by the Navajo Nation and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a Dark Sky UNESCO Heritage Site that exemplifies the connection between public lands and conservation, while also illustrating the fragility of that protection when extractionist energy production is a primary source of revenue for funding education and other vital projects in New Mexico. Within the park, massive prehistoric buildings stand as testimony to Ancestral Puebloan peoples’ organizational and engineering abilities. Past artists in residence at Chaco Culture have included Jason Garcia (Santa Clara), John Vokoun, and Dawnja Burris.
“One of the many reasons why Chaco is so important to us — it was one of the first parks that initially said yes, where I served as an artist in residence and I actually first thought of taking the National Parks Arts Foundation idea to the public at Chaco,” said Ortega.
Applications for NPAF’s February 2023 residency at Chaco Culture National Historical Park are being accepted through November 15, 2022. This one-month onsite residency is open to artists working in any and all media and includes housing and a $2,000 stipend. Important to note, however, is that the residency does not offer studio space, so artists work plein air in accordance with NPS preservation goals and guidelines. Additionally, artists must have a vehicle that can traverse the isolated area’s rugged terrain.
The National Parks Arts Foundation’s approach to their residency programs is informed by Ortega’s own experiences. “We are advocates for artists. We leave it up to the artist to say what they want to do. Once you start trying to put up boundaries — art doesn’t work like that,” said Ortega. “Good art takes time.”
Editor’s note, 11/11/22, 6:01pm EDT: In an earlier version of this post, Jason Garcia’s tribal affiliation was misidentifed. It has been corrected.