The Salida Ranger District Is Inviting Artists To Camp In Southern Colorado’s Forests, Then Make Art About Them

March 30, 2021
Browns Canyon.Browns Canyon.Lesley McClurg/CPR News
The Arkansas River running through Browns Canyon National Monument.

The Salida Ranger District within the Pike and San Isabel National Forests Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands is piloting a forest artist in residency program aimed at helping tell the story of public lands.

The program includes a week at the rustic and historic Bassam Guard Station and a week camping in the district, which includes the Saguache Mountain Range, the Browns Canyon National Monument, the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Mountain Range and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

"Throughout the years, artists have done a pretty phenomenal job at depicting the beauty of our national forests and natural landscapes," said Ben Lara, recreation program manager with the Salida Ranger District, adding that artists can inspire and teach people about those spaces.

He said the pilot program came about after new staff with similar experience joined the district and proposed the idea. The program is loosely modeled after others in the U.S. Forest Service.

"The community of Salida is fairly arts-friendly," he said. "And so things kind of lined up … and we feel like art can serve as a medium for communicating different messages and connecting people to their public lands, and we would love to utilize the creative energy that artists bring for doing that."

Artists will create under the theme "Before and After," which Lara said could mean anything from changes that come as a result of an increase in visitors due to pandemic escape to the effects of beetle kill.

"[Before and After is] a theme we've kind of loosely used to provide some structure on what we're looking for," Lara said. "But we are looking for some creativity on what an artist, how they view that, what's their before and after?"

Lara said they're also trying to include people as part of the natural landscape.

"A lot times artists will show a forest or a mountain landscape, but people are coming to their public lands in droves, and we want to make sure that artists can see that and interpret that accordingly," he said.

That could include work crews, Lara said. Ultimately, though, Lara said, it's about the artist's experience and how they interpret what they're seeing and experiencing.

"We're looking for creativity and helping provide that creativity as a way to connect with existing and new users of their public lands," he said.

As of Tuesday, Lara said they've received a handful of applications. Among them are artists in dance, film and music. He expects the panel, which includes people from outside the U.S. Forest Service's Salida Ranger District, will make decisions by the end of April. The Bassam Guard Station has been set aside for an August term.

Applications are being accepted through Wednesday, March 31.

Editor's Note: The photo caption originally misidentified the image. It has been changed to reflect the actual image.