Wilderness Inspires Artists in Alaska

Artists have long contributed to the preservation and interpretation of our public lands. Early examples include George Catlin, Albert Beirstadt, and Thomas Moran, whose nineteenth-century paintings inspired pride in America's wild landscapes and influenced designation of our first parks. In subsequent generations, artists used song, photograph, poetry and other mediums to celebrate America's public lands. Their work demonstrates that artistic expression plays a vital role in connecting people to the natural world. Recognizing that today's artists continue to link people to the land, in 2010 the Forest Service started Voices of the Wilderness, a unique artist-in-residence program focusing on wilderness stewardship. Since then, the program has expanded to a multi-agency partnership including the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service with ten wilderness areas across Alaska currently hosting artists on the Tongass National Forest, Chugach National Forest, and various national parks and national wildlife refuges across Alaska. Participating artists assist with basic ranger duties, which may include boarding a tour boat to provide education, participating in research projects, such as seal counts or climate change studies, or walking a beach to remove litter. The idea is to give artists a sense of the stewardship behind America's public lands, fostering an artistic exploration of these natural and cultural treasures. In exchange for the residency, the artists donate a piece of artwork to the hosting wilderness area and provide a community extension of their choice (lecture/slideshow, art opening, workshop, etc). The purpose is to share with the community artwork that conveys the inspirational and other values of wilderness.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the artwork from these residencies will become part of a traveling art show entitled Voices of the Wilderness, an event that will begin in Sitka in March 2014 and travel around Alaska, including stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Anchorage. It may also travel to Washington D.C. in September, then to the National Wilderness Conference held in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October. Over 30 works of art will be on display, including photography, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, acrylic paintings, poems, and video. So that Alaska's wild lands can be adequately represented, various wilderness areas that may not be participating in our artist residency will also be donating artwork to the show, including Denali, Wrangell-St.Elias, Gates of the Arctic and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

By circulating the show throughout the state of Alaska, to our nation's capital and to the National Wilderness Conference, we hope to engage communities in the importance and values of wilderness through artistic expression.

Wilderness managers are in the process of selecting artists for this upcoming summer's residencies, which will be announced mid-April. For more information contact Barbara Lydon at blydon.fs.fed.us.