Tumamoc Artists Initiative

Arts on Tumamoc



IN RECENT DECADES there has been a growing sense in the academic world that knowledge is becoming too fragmented as specialties become narrower, becoming like watertight compartments. Many scientists see significant costs in this overspecialization. As Konrad Lorenz said, “The specialist knows more and more about less and less”.

In 2001, Roger Malina, writing in Leonardo, an art and science journal published by MIT Press, suggested that innovation in both the arts and sciences will come from the so-called ?New Leonardos,? people who cross interdisciplinary boundaries, think outside the box, and encourage collaborations between sciences and the humanities.

In a sense, both artists, writers, and scientists are doing research. The intentions and products are different, but there is a rich overlap. For example, a new generation of? artists and writers are studying science in order to increase the reach and depth of their work. On the other side, there is also an increasing awareness that scientists also have something to gain from their interactions with the humanities. Interviews with Nobel prize-winning scientists reveal that their break-through ideas often came from outside of their specific domain of knowledge, using a creative process similar to that described by artists and poets.

To mention just one project examining this subject within the UA, Sally Marston, a professor in the department of Geography and regional Development, received a grant in 2010 from the National Science Foundation and the The Arts and Humanities Research Council of almost one million dollars to study the broader impacts of research labs around the world that have artist-in-residence programs.


In 2003 the The Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word was established at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. This initiative, which started a writers-in-residence program at Andrews Forest, is a collaboration between the Oregon State University Department of Philosophy, the US Forest Service, and the Andrews Forest Long-Term Ecological Research program, another LTER funded by the National Science Foundation to encourage long-term, place-based research in a network of sites in different ecosystems across North America.

In 2010, Gary P. Nabhan, suggested that Tumamoc develop an artist- and writer-in-residence program of its own, inspired by the work done at Andrews Forest. Tumamoc Hill is now part of this network of 21 LTEReflections sites around North America. The idea was to provide periods of residence on-site to applicants, who would publish and present their work to the community, increasing understanding and the perceived cultural value to the specific place.
Tumamoc Director Mike Rosenzweig invited me to be the first artist-in-residence at Tumamoc Hill. I was given office space and a certain amount of creative freedom to develop arts activities that fit the mission of Tumamoc. I was given a volunteer Research Associate position through the US Southwest Center. With this title, CAT card, and room privileges card, I was able to receive a key to the Tumamoc gate and office buildings.

Having access to the buildings and gate allowed me to invite other artists to do so-called place-based and outdoor drawing and painting on the Hill. I created a blog Web site, TumamocSketchbook.com to record and archive my own activities and that of others on Tumamoc.

Besides the richness of the history and natural beauty of the place, the advantages to artists include working in a relatively wild natural place, while having access to shelter, water, a small kitchen, restrooms, etc provided by the desert lab. Besides this core of Tumamoc artists, teachers of nature art, notable Linda Feltner, who teaches as the Desert Museum School of Art, taught workshops on Tumamoc Hill. Linda noted that she has brought students to botanical gardens, but Tumamoc is unique in providing the experience of working in a wild landscape.

The book, This Piece of Earth: Images and Words from Tumamoc Hill, (TPOE) published in 2014 by Tumamoc: People and Habitats featured artwork created on-site by the Tumamoc artists and a related project by the POG Poetry Group in 2012,
In 2013, based on the TPOE book, Tumamoc artists and writers were invited to submit a proposal, and accepted for a chapter in an upcoming special issue of the peer-reviewed publication, Journal of the Southwest, in collaboration with Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers (N-Gen). All of the artists and writers involved heard talks by Desert Lab researchers, went with them to visit field sites, and had access to these sites as needed. The work produced came directly out of this experience. Most of these people had gone through either the early Tumamoc docent program, or various educational presentations on Tumamoc, were highly educated, motivated, and trusted by the Tumamoc staff.

In 2014, Tumamoc received additional recognition from the State of Arizona through an ?Artists Research and Development Grant? to me for a proposal called Tumamoc: A Community Icon.

In that context, the small arts program clearly has a place in the Tumamoc mission to promote research and educational outreach that deepens our understanding of our place in the Sonoran Desert and that of the community.


Artists and writers naturally develop a respect, reverence, and relationship? with their subjects. Work published an exhibited from an iconic site like Tumamoc gives the community a frame for seeing their own environment in a new way, noticing things that they passed by many times.

To succeed, this program must allow artists and writers wishing to do work on the hill must have access to the scientists associated with Tumamoc, and they must have a means to apply for back-country access. The Tumamoc arts projects mentioned above all bear this out. It?s a given that artists and writers wishing to participate must be educated about the history, ecology, and guidelines of the place, and have an unquestioned personal commitment to the protection of Tumamoc as a preserve and a sanctuary. some official sanction in which to operate. Ultimately this comes down to the sincerity and trustworthiness of the participants, which can?t be legislated.
Artists working in the ?plein air? mode are given a short introduction to what Tummaoc is, including the guidelines that they are restricted to the roadside and the disturbed areas around the buildings. Field trips off road are currently lead by a Tumamoc scientist, UA archaeologist, or other designated guide, like myself. These guidelines could be defined more precisely, so that people are not subject to after-the-fact violations that they were not aware of.

Nabhan’s original concept for Tumamoc was to create a fellowship program that would award residency periods on-site of several weeks, to artists and writers wishing to work closely on site. Part of the agreement would be sharing the results of their residency with the broader community in a presentation, exhibition, or publication. This would start with local people, but could be extended to applicants from outside the Tucson area. Any policy set up should accommodate these people as well. Tumamoc could host workshops advertised to a national audience, enlarging it’s role as an icon and an attractant for larger community of people working in the arts and environment.

The best approach, in my view, is to consider Tumamoc writers and artists a special kind of researcher, parallel to and with the same responsibilities and privileges that visiting scientists have. In 2013, I applied successfully with Tumamoc research director Larry Venable for a research permit for a project I was doing in the north Saguaro plot and associated Spalding plots. I had visited the plots with the USGS plot survey in 2012 and again with Ray Turner. Thus I was well trained in how to conduct myself on the ground. I used this permit in regard to the Journal of the Southwest chapter we are submitting to N-Gen.

Sometimes the artist and science research overlaps. After many tours of the site by Paul and Suzie Fish and one by Gayle Hartmann I spent time documenting the prehistoric trail and doing time-lapse photography of solstice and equinox calendar stones.? In doing this, I also inadvertently performed some archaeological research by finding some possible tonal boulders used for prehistoric percussion instruments. A subsequent expedition with archaeologists from the Arizona State Museum confirmed this and the stones were added to their inventory of rock art.

All artists wear safety-colored vests when off road to clearly mark them as having special clearance.

In some cases, artists have found artifacts while drawing on the summit. In all cases we have replaced them in the same location where found. In the case of Kathleen’s use of historical trash found on the hill, she was monitored by Tumamoc staff and it was clear that she could not sell the work and was to replace the artifacts after documenting her work. The issues brought up by her work are clearly not her fault, but due to the fact that no one had done any similar work before. Now that the issue is out in the open, we are pending a resolution from a meeting with Todd Pitezel, who will establish rules for the future.

HJ Andrews Experimental Forest: Long-Term Ecological Reflections
Ecological Reflections: An Archive of Art and Science Collaborative Efforts

–Paul Mirocha, 2014

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