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Community Artist in the Parks Program

The scenery within the national parks in southeast Utah inspired the creation of the
Community Artist in the Parks program.

The program began in 2009 as a way to highlight the connection between local artists and the landscapes contained within the parks of the National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

The program gives visitors from across the globe an opportunity to see first-hand the results of artistic inspiration from wild nature. It provides local artists an ability to teach and demonstrate their medium and passion for creative expression.

2020 Community Artist in the Parks Samantha Zim

“I found my way to landscape artwork by way of the red desert and passionate community of the Moab Valley. The chaotic flow of canyon country has inspired me to develop a style which celebrates its expressive nature, and evokes the emotional drama of light that brings the desert to life. Landscape work is a recent artistic adventure for me, and I rely on my background in scientific illustration to help tell the detailed, whimsical stories I pursue in my current work. My creative process is rooted in being outdoors, and I work primarily in sketchbooks that travel easily, and use a combination of graphite, watercolor, pen and ink.

I feel there is a common desire that unites humans in our experience of landscape: the longing to recognize something of ourselves in the natural world. I hope to explore this relationship via Utah’s stunning scenery, and the powerful impact it has on both travelers and residents.”

The Postcard Project

Central to the Community Artist in the Parks program are the conversations artists have with visitors they meet in the parks.

But what happens when the parks are closed to visitation? Also, people might choose not to travel as much this year because of lingering concerns about the pandemic. But this doesn’t mean the program has to stop. Instead, we’re reaching out to talk with you wherever you are!

Every week, we’ll post a different theme or prompt here and on social media. Send a postcard with your response and 2020 Community Artist Samantha Zim will send one back. It might even have some artwork on it inspired by your participation!

Send your stories, sketches, and other inspired responses to:

Samantha Zim
PO Box 1275
Moab UT 84532

“I want to encourage correspondence outside the boundaries of technology. I hope it gives you some time to think about the natural world, away from screens. I’m excited to see what turns up in the mail, and excited to start mailing some postcards (and maybe some art) back!”

Wednesday, June 10, 2020:

How has being outdoors affected your friendships and conversations?

Time spent outdoors with friends has to be one of the greatest joys of life. The outdoors creates opportunities to get to know people in a unique way. Moving through the natural world changes our behaviors and relationships: we adapt, improvise, collaborate, trust, problem-solve, and shoulder responsibility in ways that deepen our connections with others.

I’m fortunate that nearly all my closest relationships have been formed, or strengthened, by shared experiences outdoors, and many of the best conversations I’ve had happened under an open sky.

I’d love to hear about one of your favorite buddy trips, a great conversation, or a time you worked as a team outdoors and the effect it’s had on your relationships.


Monday, August 10:

What’s a silver lining you’ve found when the natural work foiled your plans?

Bad weather, flat tires in the middle of nowhere, wrong directions, bees… If you’ve spent any time outdoors you know to expect the unexpected. Though frustrating, these experiences create opportunities as they force us to scramble our plans. Maybe you wouldn’t have found that viewpoint, met that person, seen that bird’s nest — if things had gone smoothly.

Tumultuous, intense, polarizing, good, bad, ugly… 2020 is unique. The unexpected gifts received outdoors remind me to look for windows of opportunity this year has opened, instead of just staring at all the closed doors.

Tell me about a few of your silver linings from the outdoors or from this year.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020:

What has the natural world taught you about how to keep going when things get tough?

Perseverance: to persist in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

The natural world is full of examples of perseverance- most natural processes unfold with persistence, but not speed. Additionally, the outdoors often demands perseverance from those who spend time in it.


Monday, May 25:

Sam’s First Desert Forage

In the summer of 2015, I set my sights on my first true desert forage: prickly pears. Although I’d gleaned mulberries, apricots, cherries, and pears, all overflowing from yards and the remnants of Mormon orchards, the harvest of a truly native desert plant had eluded me.

Prickly pear fruits, or “tunas,” can range in color from bright magenta to golden peach or a deep wine color. Their flavor is said to be like a musty mix between watermelon and strawberries, and they have to be harvested with tongs and thick gloves—they’re covered in fine, nearly invisible and extremely irritating hairs.

Come September, I geared up and headed out to a spiky piece of ranched land…

Stay tuned for Part Two of Sam’s foraging story next week…

Monday, May 18, 2020:

What food grows wild where you live?

Before the domestication of plants and animals, foraging was the primary source of food for humans. In the era of grocery stores, foraging seems to have gotten a bad rap—seen as grubby, opportunistic, or even dangerous. I didn’t start foraging until I became an adult, but now I love stumbling across wild food. It always amazes me to think: the Earth just made this! Without any human intervention.

Foraging is also a regional experience, connecting humans to the unique ecology and traditions of the land they live on. I’m excited to hear if any of you make a habit of looking for and learning about the food that grows wild where you live!

Monday, May 11:

How and when have you needed to adapt to the outdoors?

Adapt: to make something suitable for a new use or purpose; modify.
Many desert species are uniquely adapted to deal with heat and lack of water (including the black-tailed jackrabbit). In many cases humans adapt to nature without realizing it: our circadian rhythm, or internal sleep/wake cycle, naturally tries to adjust to seasonally changing light levels. However, other times the natural world presents us with circumstances that demand conscious change to suit the situation. Whether it’s a surprise rainstorm on your commute, a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, or finding a patch of wild blackberries, humans have been adapting to naturally occuring curveballs for as long as we’ve walked the earth. And like the adaptations of desert flora and fauna, the ways we allow ourselves to be shaped by the natural world often produce striking outcomes.

Now seems like a great time to think about adaptation, and the incredible results it produces in plants, animals, and people alike!

Monday, May 4, 2020:

What is your earliest memory of the natural world?

“I love beginnings, and newness is in evidence everywhere in the desert—even as the temperature begins to creep toward summer’s heat. This curious juvenile raven, for example, flew so low over me last week that it ruffled my hair as it swooped down to have a look at what I was doing (and see if I had any snacks). Reliving the curiosity I brought with me every time I stepped out the door as a kid is a central part of how I behave outdoors. I look forward to hearing about where and you how first stuck your toes in the dirt, and what this print reminds you of.”

Monday, April 27:

Which plants are the first to tell you it’s spring where you live?

“It feels like everyone is focused more than ever on growing things, and fortunately things are still growing: tomatoes, crocuses, dandelions, and desert wildflowers. Over the past few weeks, any time I’ve felt panic or anxiety creeping in I’ve found myself turning to plants. Whether it’s digging in my yard or drawing globemallow, the minute details, flowing lines, and energy always get me recentered. So this week tell me about the growing things where you are, and I’ll send you flowers from the desert!”

Monday, April 20, 2020:

It’s International Dark Sky Week!

“80% of Americans live in areas of the country where you can’t see the Milky Way due to light pollution from cities, but even in those cities at least a handful of stars usually cut through the smog and light. Do you know their names? Have you ever seen a meteor shower? Maybe you live on a farm and have more familiarity with the night sky. I look forward to reading (and replying to!) your experiences with stars, and reflecting on my own, this week.”

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