Southeast Utah Community Artist Program

Arches National Park


The idea came to me as I was looking around at different artist-in-residence opportunities throughout the park service. And I knew that there had been an artist-in-residence at Arches, so I knew there were programs that had been done in the past, but I just thought maybe there was an opportunity to have an artist-in-residence program, but with a twist: to highlight the connection between someone who lives in this community that is so affected by and surrounded by national parks.

In the winter of 2009, the parks were approached by Chad Niehaus, a local artist, and we started talking about how to get a connection between community artists and our park visitors. And it was perfect timing. We really had been trying to put together some sort of program that involved artists, visitors, the it was a great opportunity to sit down with a local artist, decide how this would actually play out on the ground and put it into action.

The vision behind the program was to take this active art community here in Moab and provide an opportunity to show this resource to visitors. But at the same time, provide an opportunity for those artists to, maybe, push out of their boundaries a little bit. For example, you know, it's one thing to create a piece art within your own space and even hang it somewhere if you're not really part of that. There can be a separation, and that can be safe, and that can feel good. It's a very different thing entirely to be creating art in front of someone, and have that need to actually perform and to create and to maybe complete - to finish. But also, it's a really good process or exercise to try to explain what in the world you're doing.

So, in my mind, what makes a really great community artist is someone who is very approachable. Creates an environment in which visitors feel comfortable approaching the artist as they're working. Someone who can easily express their passion for this place, either just directly through their medium or verbally to that visitor who approaches them in the field. They're someone who has a medium that's easily taken into the field. Something that's portable, so they can actually get out in the park and experience it first-hand with our visitors.

An artist that particpates gets to see amazing places that he or she can get to know better through the creative process. The most significant leap of familiarity with our backyard here is to see it through the eyes of visitors. Other things that can benefit an artist are to really think about what they're doing, and to set a goal. And that can be as simple as I want to create a certain body of work. But it's setting a goal of creating twice a week. It introduces a certain level of rigidity which I think is beneficial.

Taking a look at the 2009 program, there was so much that was successful about it. Chad was able to really connect with our visitors in the park. They were interested in what he was doing. His artwork was very accessible to our visitors that approached him in the field. They got a sense of his passion for this place and got more excited about this place in return. For the visitors who were able to take home a piece of his art from our bookstore, I think they have a tangible reminder of that special connection between the artist and the natural world, but also their own connection within it.

I think the Community Artist in the Park Program offers one more context for people to appreciate their parks. Kind of reinforcing how important the parks are for inspiration. And it doesn't have to artistic inspiration. Just inspiration: to go someplace and be inspired is a huge thing for people's lives. And to create a venue for that reminder, that the National Park Service, for a lot of people, serves as that spark or that inspiration source...not only do we have these lands set aside for enjoyment...we have people that are walking away ready to do things, in a positive direction, because of their experience with the land.


This video covers how the Community Artist Program began and the challenges and rewards it offers participating artists.


5 minutes, 22 seconds


NPS/Neal Herbert

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