The national parks have played muse to more artists than just Ansel Adams, whose iconic photos of Yosemite have come to define the way we see the area.
In fact, since the 1960s, the National Park Service has run artist residency programs (currently there are more than 40 of them) to ensure that collaborations between artists and nature can continue unfettered throughout the United States.
So, exactly how does one score a gig as desirable as this? There are a few ways: You can fill out an application online. You can draft your own original proposal. Or, if you're lucky, and likely very talented, you could be invited via an advisory board curated by The National Parks Arts foundation, which oversees many of the parks' programs. (The board often comprises well-known art critics and experts from institutions including The Andy Warhol Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts.)
The arrangement is a give-and-take: While artists often receive free room and board (and, of course, invaluable peace and quiet), they also contribute to the culture of the parks, by leading workshops and interacting with visitors. Residencies can take place for anywhere from a few days to months, and each park has unique offerings, many of which include special accommodations reserved specifically for the residency program.
Below, discover some of the most amazing opportunities out there, and find out who's been lucky enough to take up residence.
Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
Located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, the only way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is by boat or seaplane. (Our vote: seaplane.) For the most part, people who visit the 100-square-mile park come to see Fort Jefferson (one of the oldest forts in the U.S.) and then spend the rest of the day snorkeling and swimming in the warm, clear water; some of the braver people even camp overnight. For their recent residency, multimedia artist Anna Glynn and scientist Peter Delmazzo packed a month's worth of food and didn't leave the island for the duration of their stay. (Because of the isolated nature of this residency, they only accept applications for artist couples or "two artists who are willing to tolerate each other.")
Big Bend National Park, TX
When playwright, screenwriter, and producer Howard Korder (who worked as a writer for Boardwalk Empire) took up residence at Big Bend National Park in Far West Texas, the environment inspired a script for a miniseries. He worked on it while there, and recently sold it to HBO. Korder made himself available to the local community, too, stopping by Marfa Public Radio for a discussion about the residency and hosting a screening and talk about the process of writing an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Korder, if you're reading this, let us know when to set the DVR. We are ready.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
The residency in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, which was just established in 2014, is already a busy, coveted one, unsurprisingly, since it takes place on an island that most people shell out thousands of dollars to vacation on. Artists-in-residence work in a 4,700-square-foot studio, with french doors that open out into the rainforest. (The walk to the nearest volcano takes about 30 seconds.) A 2016 artist-in-residence, Emma Stibbon, made for a perfect fit for the park, as her stark, monochromatic work is often concerned with the impact humans have on natural landscapes. Coming soon? Two local artists: the musician Byron Yasui and the painter Noreen Naughton.
Gettysburg National Military Park, PA
This national park has recently invested in its artist residency, in the hopes of making it one of the hottest tickets in the entire parks system. Gettysburg will host eight month-long residencies in 2016, each of which come with a $1,000 stipend, and a house that is set aside solely for the use of artists. The Degenerate Art Ensemble, who make performance art inspired by "punk, comics, cinema, nightmares, and fairy tales driven by live music and [their] own style of visceral movement theater and dance" are coming to stay in just a few weeks.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
This national park has won praise for its beauty from sources as disparate as Good Morning America (on which it was named the "Most Beautiful Place in America") and Mario Batali (who hosted a TV special on its general awesomeness). Because of the abundance of gorgeous scenery for them to depict, this program is often popular with landscape painters.
Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
This national park in Arizona is known for its craggy landscape of petrified wood and an abundance of fossils. Artists who take up residence stay in historic casitas for the duration of their project and are forewarned that it's not a walk in just any park—the Petrified Forest gets extremely hot, and is buffeted with high winds. But that hasn't stopped very many people. In 2016 alone the park will host 16 residents, from photographers to textile artists to printers and weavers.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NM
The first designated "dark sky" artist-in-residence, Stan Honda, recently stayed at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where he was put up in a yurt studio on-site and tasked with creating work inspired by the Chaco night sky. Blankets of stars aren't the only breathtaking thing about this park—it's also home to unique ancient pueblos dating back to 850 A.D. (Want proof that the artist residencies are open to more than just traditional disciplines? Chaco also recently hosted two artists who were formerly Cirque du Soleil performers.)
Grand Canyon National Park, UT
From May to October each year, artists are offered the opportunity to stay in a small cabin on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The rustic one-bedroom, which is shaded in the summer heat by tall ponderosa pines, is an ideal setting for artists seeking a bit of solitude. This popular residency, which is open to all kinds of artists, receives hundreds of applications each season—understandable when the chance to sleep and work within one of the seven natural wonders of the world is at stake.
Denali National Park & Preserve Denali Park, AK
The six million acres of peaceful wilderness that composes Denali National Park in Alaska is a uniquely untamed setting for artists who come to stay. Each residency here lasts 10 days, culminating in an artist-led workshop for the local community. Lodging for this one is especially exciting: Artists, including The New Yorker- and Paris Review-published poet John Morgan, who participated in 2009, get to stay in the historic (and incredibly picturesque) East Fork Cabin, which was originally used by the respected biologist Adolf Murie in the 1930s.
For more information on these residencies, see nationalparksartfoundation.org and nps.gov.