In the black
Friends of Black Rock High Rock Artist-in-Residence Program
Among the arts community, the Black Rock Desert is best known as the site of the Burning Man festival every summer. For the rest of the year it gets a number of visitors that’s estimated to be somewhere in the tens of thousands but not officially counted, as the camping is primitive and the entry points aren’t gated or staffed. Not everyone might appreciate such alien terrain as artistic fodder, but the organization Friends of Black Rock High Rock has been promoting just that for the past three years.
The mission of the organization—started in 1999 and based in Gerlach—is to help manage the resources of the 1.2 million acre national conservation area, including Black Rock Desert, High Rock Canyon and Emigrant Trails.
Friends of Black Rock High Rock works with the Bureau of Land Management to host two artists every spring for its two-week Artist-in-Residence Program.
“This program was sort of the brainchild of the previous executive director, but it came out of trying to engage the public in new and thoughtful ways, and to really showcase the area and promote appreciation of the area,” said Executive Director Michael Myers. “There are a lot of artist-in-residence programs in the National Parks Service. It’s a very popular program.”
Since 2014, two artists have been selected from a pool of applicants by a panel of five judges. They’re given lodging at a ranch outside of Gerlach and a field orientation about the surrounding landscape. They’re expected to create artworks for exhibition.
“Ultimately the goal is to have the public gain a deeper understanding of the cultural and historical significance of a national conservation area,” said Myers.
Myers believes that seeing artists’ interpretations of the land contributes to greater public understanding of why the area is protected.
Artists in past years have used a variety of media. This year, Megan Berner (who is also an RN&R contributor), used mixed-media and cyanotypes, a type of photographic printing that produces a blue image.
“Coming from a desert home, I have always been drawn to more desolate, inhospitable and subtle landscapes—places that seem to only show themselves to those who spend time in them and seek out what they have to offer,” said Berner in her artist’s statement.
The other artist this year is Deborah Finley, a teacher and ceramics sculptor who grew up in Ely and now lives in Elko.
“I got out there and went camping and just experienced it really personally—the whole area out there, from the playa to the mountains around there,” she said in a phone interview. “I brought that back to my studio and created some artwork that I felt worked with the environment out there. … For me it was just a real spiritual place to be.”
“You go out there and you get inspired to create something reflective of the area,” Finley said. “It’s a way to preserve it for me, in my mind, plus it also maybe would bring the beauty and the value of that area to people who would see my artwork.”
Berner and Finley’s exhibition has already been shown in Gerlach and Winmemucca. The next showing takes place at Reno Art Works.