Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aleria Jensen's Guest post on 49 Writers Blog

On November 10, 2010 Aleria Jensen had a wonderful essay about our artist residency posted on the 49 writers blog (www.49writers.blogspot.com), a website for collaborative reflections and book news by and for Alaskan writers.

Aleria uses her words to vividly describe her experiences in the field, as well as to give insight for curious 2011 applicants.  

Great job, Aleria!


Voices in the Wilderness: Guest post by Aleria Jensen

This guest post, subtitled "Check out the New Writers Residency in Southeast AK: By Kayak, In Wilderness," was a great surprise in our inbox this month, and just the kind of writers' opportunity we might have missed otherwise. Thanks to Aleria for sending it and good luck to those writers and artists adventurous enough to apply. 

Think Xtra-Tufs for nine days. Think deep fiords and high peaks. Whisper-lite stove hissing on gravel beaches. Notebook in the pocket of your paddle-jacket—scribble, scribble, scribble.

If this sounds like your speed, think Voices of the Wilderness Program. This new opportunity sponsored by the US Forest Service (USFS) kicked off its first season in summer 2010. Three artists joined wilderness rangers for week-long field trips in the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, 45 miles south of Juneau, to celebrate art in one of Southeast Alaska’s wildest landscapes.

After being accepted into the program last spring, I was thrilled at the opportunity to head out for a field residency in July. In years past, I’d spent a lot of time in these fiords for both work and play, but never with writing at the center of the experience. Add to that now being the mother of a toddler, and the chance to attend to my own creative space for a week had me all but salivating.

Modeled after the Park Service’s Artists in Residence program, Voices of the Wilderness seeks to highlight both the Tongass National Forest and the National Wilderness Preservation System. The program broadly targets all forms of artistic expression, including visual artists, writers, storytellers, dancers, musicians and performance artists (not limited to Alaskans). Applications for 2011 will likely be due in April with selections made in May.

The program is the brainchild of Barbara Lydon, a wilderness ranger and artist who divides her time between Alaska and Montana. She started thinking about the concept through the course of several experiences in 2009: an artists’ celebration at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the World Wilderness Congress in Mexico, and a volunteer stint for the National Park Service in Gates of the Arctic. Now that her original idea has evolved to become an official program, Barbara is looking ahead to 2011. “We’re really excited about the second year of Voices of the Wilderness after the success of the first [year]—the program has just taken off,” she says over coffee on a recent rain-blowing-sideways fall day in Juneau.

So what’s expected of the writer? Artists should be motivated and willing to ‘give back’ after their residency by 1) donating a piece to the USFS to raise awareness about the Tongass, the wilderness area, or the value of public lands, and 2) communicating their experience to the public (this could take the form of a workshop, reading, exhibit, slideshow, performance, etc). A larger art show featuring pieces from the Voices of the Wilderness program is planned for 2014 at The Canvas in Juneau to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Imagine yourself writing in the fiord, and you’ll get to the particular Alaskan twist here: the platform. Right, a kayak. Whereas a more traditional residency might involve, say, a desk, the USFS residency has artists on the move, shadowing rangers, traveling over water. This is not a sit-and-stare-at-the-mountains kind of week—you paddle, you hike, you explore new terrain. Pick up camp, wake to a new beauty each morning. Write in your tent, on the beach, in between paddle strokes.

And don’t forget the other twist: you’re not plugged in. Think back a decade or two—yup, that’s right, when we actually wrote, as in by hand. Since laptops and kayaks don’t exactly mix, there was no choice but to return to the original state of pen and paper. Hello cold hands, wet fingers, and bad handwriting. Now back at my kitchen table, I’m still trying to translate pieces of chilly chicken-scratch from my Write-in-the-Rain notebooks.

But the lack of a computer is exactly why you’re here. You might camp a half mile from an active tidewater glacier (see if you can sleep with ice crashing through your dreams). You might hop aboard a tour vessel (or, more accurately, wrangle your kayak, huffing and puffing, up the swimstep), where rangers talk to visitors about public lands, management challenges, climate change—and it’s all there in front of you, spelled out in rock and ice. You might race alongside a cruise ship in a small skiff while rangers read smokestack emissions to try to preserve wilderness character.

Voices of the Wilderness gives writers the chance to immerse themselves in this raw world for a week, ponder our relationship to place, and put it to paper. If you want to learn more about applying for a 2011 residency, contact Barbara Lydon at lydon_barbara@yahoo.com. Anyone with questions about the 2010 residency is welcome to contact me at aleriaj@hotmail.com.

Aleria Jensen’s poems and essays have appeared in publications such as Orion Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tidal Echoes, Potomac Review, and Terrian.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. She currently has work included in the collection Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing, released this month by the University of Utah Press. Aleria lives in Juneau with her partner, Kevin, and their two year old son. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Juneau Empire article: Artists in Wild Places

The summer of 2010 marked the first year of our Voices of the Wilderness artist residency.  We modeled it after residencies in the national parks and the Flathead National Forest’s Artist-Wilderness-Connect program in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Further inspiration came from arts programs at the 2010 World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico, and a volunteer opportunity in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which also hosts an artist residency. But the program on the Tongass was to be different from the others. Instead of staying at a remote wilderness cabin, our artists would be paired with rangers and actively engaged in stewardship projects. Traveling by sea kayak and camping alongside the fiord, they would participate in research, monitoring, and education projects. The objective was to give artists an idea of the stewardship behind America’s public lands while simultaneously inspiring them with natural beauty. The hoped-for result is artwork and a presentation that communicates both ideas to the community.

On March 25, 2010, Amy Fletcher, Arts & Culture editor at the Juneau Empire wrote a wonderful full length article introducing the first year of this opportunity. We received a lot of great feedback from the article, as well as interest from local Juneau artists.  Thanks, Amy!

Art in wild places New artist-in-residence program in the Tongass kicks off

A kayaker paddles near South Sawyer Glacier, at the terminus of Tracy Arm fjord, 50 miles south of Juneau. 

The majesty of the Tongass National Forest evoked in verse. The drama of the sheer cliffs of Tracy Arm fjord suggested in music. The blue of the Sawyer Glaciers captured on canvas. A new U.S. Forest Service artist-in-residence program, "Voices of the Wilderness," will provide artists of all disciplines a chance to interpret the indescribable landscape of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror through their particular creative lens.
This spring, two artists will be selected to travel to Tracy and Endicott Arms with Forest Service rangers on week-long trips this summer, accompanying the rangers as they go about their work, and focusing their energies on the creation of artwork representative of the area.
Wilderness ranger and local artist Barbara Lydon brought the idea for a Tongass artist-in-residence program to fruition earlier this year. She'd begun thinking about it after attending a celebration for artists at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana, and, later, while on assignment in Alaska's Gates of Arctic National Park and Preserve, where a similar program is in place.
Lydon, who splits her time between Montana and Juneau, researched other programs around the country in formulating her plan, adjusting the model to fit the unique natural environment of Southeast Alaska.
"One of the cool things about our program is that it's modeled after these national programs that are already working, but ours has a bit of a twist because we don't have cabins for the artists to stay in."
Instead, artists will rough it, camping in a tent and traveling by kayak with a ranger, immersing themselves in the natural landscape. Artists and rangers will divide their time between Holkham Bay and Tracy and Enidcott Arms, two steep-walled fjords located 50 miles south of Juneau that terminate in the Sawyer and Dawes glaciers.
"We could be down at the end of the arm, paddling through the ice, checking out seals on icebergs down at their level, seeing bears on the shore ... walking around on the rocks and on the beaches - it's first-hand experience.
The national parks' artist in residence program, begun in 1984, is designed to support the role of artists in the preservation and interpretation of the country's wild spaces. There are roughly 30 similar programs in national parks around the country, including Denali National Park in Alaska, Badlands National Park in South Dakota and Acadia National Park in Maine. Many of these programs are geared toward visual artists, but Lydon felt a broader focus would work well and designed the Tongass program to include writers, dancers, musicians, storytellers and others. The common thread between them is that each would be asked to use their medium to express their impressions of and ideas about the wilderness.
"What we're really trying to do is highlight the Tongass," Lydon said. "Obviously there is going to be personal growth for the artist, but really it's about experiencing this wilderness and bringing those experiences back to the community - letting their artwork be a voice for the wilderness."
Artists will also be expected to perform light ranger duties, such as collecting trash and boarding tour boats.
Lydon said the positions aren't specifically geared toward outdoor enthusiasts; in fact, urban artists who are willing to push the limits of their comfort might be among those who could benefit the most from their immersion in the Southeast Alaska wilderness. That said, a willingness to live apart from the amenities most are used to is essential.
The role of artists and writers in U.S. wilderness preservation has long been important; in fact, they were influential in the creation of the national park system itself in 1916. Among the prominent examples: Landscape painter Thomas Moran's images of Yellowstone played a role in the decision to establish it as the nation's first national park in 1872; Carleton Watkins' photos of Yosemite helped establish its designation as a protected area in 1864; Ansel Adams' black and white photographs of Kings Canyon helped secure the area as a national park in 1940; John Muir's writing, widely influential, is credited with helping establish the creation of Mount Rainier and Grand Canyon National Parks, among others. Many other writers, such as Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson, celebrate the glory of the natural world in their poetry and prose, a tradition continued by modern writers Terry Tempest Williams, Wallace Stegner and many more.
Artists will be expected to donate a piece of art representative of the Tongass to the U.S. Forest Service after the residency program is complete, and to lead a presentation on their residency for the Juneau community, such as a slideshow, lecture, performance, demonstration or workshop.
The program will begin with two artists, at least one of whom is local, and will be set up in two separate trips of six to nine days this summer. Lydon hopes it will grow year to year.
"Based on the success of other programs and from the feedback I've gotten from interested artists and from others that aren't applying, I think this program is really going to take off."
The artists selected for the program will also participate in a larger art show, scheduled for 2014 at the Canvas, marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, legislation passed in 1964 designed to protect federal lands.
There has been a great deal of interest in the program already, Lydon said, from artists as far away as New York City. She has spoken to some of them over the phone, and said she's enjoyed listening to their enthusiasm build as they envisioned the possible forms their art could take.
"Just to hear them on the phone talking about, 'Oh, I could probably do this,' just to hear their minds wander is really exciting."
The deadline for applications is April 12. A panel of artists and Forest Service employees will select the candidates based on artistic merit, statement of purpose and appropriateness to a national forest residency. Selections will be made by early May.
Information is available through the Canvas' Web site, www.canvasarts.org. Barbara Lydon can be reached at 907-789-6225, or lydon_barbara@yahoo.com.
• Contact Arts & Culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com.