South Rim AiR program more popular than ever

South Rim Artist in Residence Coordinator Rene Westbrook stands with current Artist in-Residence Chris Brown’s photography exhibit inside Park Headquarters. Clara Beard/WGCN

South Rim Artist in Residence Coordinator Rene Westbrook stands with current Artist in-Residence Chris Brown’s photography exhibit inside Park Headquarters. Clara Beard/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Just as the Grand Canyon landscape changes according to season and time, so does the flourishing South Rim artist in residence (AiR) program.

Over the course of five years, applications submitted for the year-round program have grown steadily in number. This year, however, AiR officials received an unprecedented 400 applications for the North and South Rim program combined.

From traditional landscape photographers and painters to cutting edge new forms, video art, conceptual art and sound art, the AiR program encourages applications from all across the artistic spectrum. That's part of the reason the program is generating so much interest.

"There is a lot of stuff that really dovetails the sciences with the arts," South Rim AiR Coordinator Rene Westbrook said. "A lot of that is because in our criteria, we really welcome artists whose work is in direct advocacy or is talking about issues that are important to the park, especially environmentalism, conservation, that kind of thing."

Westbrook said most of the artists who apply are seasoned and mid to late career, but the program also serves to nurture younger artists.

"Last year I inserted a mechanism into the application website so the artists could self-identify as emerging," Westbrook said. "That's defined as maybe you're self taught, maybe you haven't shown a lot, maybe you're getting back into it after raising children, or maybe you're just out of art school."

Westbrook said the summer is her busiest time of year, when she has to fit art professors into a three month stretch. The residency is three weeks, which most artists can work into their schedule. And because the jury selects a year in advance, the artists have plenty of time to prepare.

This year, Chief of Interpretation Judy Bryan, Westbrook's supervisor, may serve on the jury panel. Other panelists include studio and graphic artist Kim Buchheit, Coconino Center for the Arts Executive Director JT Tannis, painter April Warner and writer Suzy Verkamp - the last child raised in the Verkamp home.

"Every year we try to make it work for an upper administrator in the Park Service to serve on the panel," Westbrook said. "Some of that is because I come from the non-profit art world, and I'm still learning the ins and outs of park policy. We have nudged up against a few issues with some issues about the artists coming in where it's been challenging for upper administrators to say, 'yeah, this is okay to present to the public.'"

The panel will meet during the first week in June for the two-day process of choosing artists for next year.

More on the South Rim Artist in Residence program may be found by visiting www.nps.gov/grca/supportyourpark/air.htm.

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