Why Artists are Heading to National Parks and Monuments

When the sun rises at Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), it slowly peaks out from behind Eagle Cliff, casting a pink-orange morning glow onto the pine-flecked slopes of the Continental Divide. The William Allen White Cabin, once owned by the eponymous Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, has a front-row seat to the grandeur.

Inside, the scene is just as special: The newspaper editor’s rolltop desk and a few rocking chairs are arranged in front of a huge stone fireplace. It could all be yours—if you’re one of the lucky writers, musicians, photographers, or painters selected for RMNP’s artist-in-residence program when it returns from a yearlong hiatus (the cabin is currently undergoing renovations to make it even more spectacular) in 2019.

Given that the concept of artist residencies was born when renowned bronze sculptor Augusta St. Gardens retreated to rural New Hampshire in 1885 to sculpt in the serenity of nature, perhaps it’s not surprising that a host of artist-in-residence programs have sprung up at national parks and monuments. RMNP established the first in Colorado in 1984, and today, more than 50 residency programs—each with its own requirements, fees, and timelines­—exist in national parks across the country.

These programs offer artists the chance to get away from the outside world. And although the national park experiences might not financially rival the stipends that come with residencies at many museums and universities, the scenic inspiration is unparalleled.

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