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, Barbara Lydon can be reached at 907-789-6225, or
• Contact Arts & Culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or

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