The earliest known records of our national parks were made with oil on canvas, pencil on paper, and old film cameras. Some of the National Park Service’s most popular units, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, became federally protected in large part because of artists documenting their pristine beauty for the public.
That artistic legacy is a pillar of the national parks in modern times as well. The NPS continues to hold more than 50 artist-in-residence programs at parks and monuments across the country. Residents can be visual artists or musicians, and they stay on the grounds for several weeks or months while creating work based on their surroundings.
Now, more than 150 years after visual artists first made the case for conservation, a handful of contemporary NPS artists are using their residencies to combat threats to public lands. We spoke to three who recently used their time at Zion, Joshua Tree, and Denali national parks to highlight what will be lost if climate change and public land rollbacks continue uninterrupted.