Behind the scenes: Grand Canyon's AiR program

Selection process for both North and South Rim artist-in-residence programs reliant on volunteer jury panel

The 2012 South Rim jury panel from right to left, Kim Buchheit, John Stark, Patricia Watts and Kerrie Bellisario. Submitted Photo

The 2012 South Rim jury panel from right to left, Kim Buchheit, John Stark, Patricia Watts and Kerrie Bellisario. Submitted Photo

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - The Grand Canyon Artist-in-Residence (AiR) program has hosted some incredible artists working in both traditional and contemporary art forms. Each year, the program receives more applications and the competition becomes fiercer.

Selecting artists is an arduous process that relies on the insights of volunteer jurors who are invited to participate based on their knowledge of the arts, their own expertise as an arts administrator and often for their excellence in a creative field. The North Rim and South Rim Artist-in-Residence programs select artists independently, therefore the programs may take very different directions from season to season.

The South Rim seats a panel of four or five jurors each spring. These jurors make their selections for the following October - September season over a focused two days of scoring and debate. The North Rim program relies on local employees with a background in various art forms. The employees make their selections for the following summer season over the course of several months. The jury panel's dedication to this project created a program that is a model for other National Parks.

The South Rim jury panel participants are top of their field and generously make time for this project, South Rim Artist in Residence Coordinator Rene Westbrook said.

The experts include National Park Service writer/editor and long-time South Rim local Tom Pittenger, former South Rim Artist-in-Residence Richard Chalfant from Maui, Hawaii, Director of Sedona Music Festival and Flagstaff Orchestra tuba player Bert Harclerode, west coast art curator, administrator and program founder of the highly respected EcoArtSpace, an environmental arts non-profit organization Patricia Watts, Flagstaff textile artist and writer co-founder of Pickin in the Pines, and long-term arts administrator for various Flagstaff institutions Darcy Falk, Phoenix dancer and Arts Administrator currently with Phoenix Children's Museum, and From Page 1B

a Grand Canyon Music Festival Board Member Claire West, Los Angeles Screen Writer and Novelist co-creator of such venerable children's cartoons as Rugrats, Hey Arnold and Recess Joe Ansolabehere, long-time Grand Canyon local, art historian/curator/art administrator and Grand Canyon Music Festival Board member Beth Seeley, Flagstaff Orchestra General Manager and writer/educator Laura Kelly, and New York arts consultant and writer Kerrie Bellisario, who is also a freelance arts consultant working for NPS on a nation-wide assessment of all 50 NPS artist-in-residence programs, creating best practices documents, curating online exhibits and other projects in-service of program promotion.

Also on the panel are Flagstaff award-winning KNAU General Manager John Stark, Los Angeles Costume and Prop Designer and concept artist Dorotka Sapinska and our wonderful returning juror, South Rim local Kim Buchheit. Buchheit is a studio artist, curator, graphic designer and consultant and has served four years on the panel. She gives the panel a continuity of expertise and institutional memory, as well as contributing her exacting knowledge of both the Canyon and contemporary arts to the selection process.

"Each year, the jury panel is a reflection of the excellence of the program's participating artists," Westbrook said. "The panel does it all on their own dime. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their volunteerism."

This past season, a total of 220 artists applied for the North and South Rim programs. From that pool, the selection committee picked 12 artists for the South Rim and six for the North Rim. The artists are mostly mid-career, meaning they are well established and respected in their genres and have strong publishing, presenting, performing or exhibiting resumes. But that is not always what determines their selection. First and foremost, it's all about excellence of artwork, which is judged by the work samples they provide with their applications. They also propose public programs - each artist is required to present at least 3 hours of programming of their own design during their three-week residency. In addition to these criteria, each artist is scored on the relevance of their art form or the personal project they want to pursue while at the Canyon.

"The bottom line question they're asked to answer is, 'why do you want to come to the Grand Canyon?" Westbrook said. "Why here, why now? What impact will this focused time have on your work?' These are not easy questions, and many artists say that they just cannot anticipate what specifically might come from this experience, but their enthusiasm for the adventure of a new experience in this astounding landscape is the stimulation they're seeking at this time in their career."

Westbrook said once an artist has been selected, they aren't held to their initial ideas. Often artists arrive at the Canyon and change their mind - creating a whole new body of work or going in an entirely new direction.

"This is the experience we hope to provide to the artists, the promise of the unknown, the inspiration of immersing themselves in a new experience," Westbrook said. "These are the things that great art come from."

This year's AiR application process will be open for submissions beginning Feb. 1 with a deadline of midnight on March 1. The program is using Western States Arts Federations's online CaFE program for applications and accepts electronic submissions only. Artists must be registered with CaFE in order to apply. The program is free and may be found at www.callforentry.org/index.php. Complete information about the Grand Canyon AiR program is available by visiting www.nps.gov/grca/supportyourpark/air.htm.

Application and program questions may be emailed to Rene_Westbrook@nps.gov.

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