Art in the Parks and “Home Land Security”: A Partner’s Perspective
Sabrina Bedford is the Art in the Parks coordinator at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, one of FOR-SITE’s partners (along with the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust) in the exhibition Home Land Security. She shares with Field Notes her perspective on the relevance and potential of art presented in the context of parks.
Since I was young, I’ve loved drawing. I drew at every opportunity — at school, on homework, on concert brochures. I was encouraged to believe the world revolved around art, that it was only natural I treat creativity as paramount. My first time visiting a national park (Yosemite) in college, the first thing I thought to pack was my watercolor paint. Today, as we recognize the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS), we celebrate 100 years of watercolor paintings, stunning panoramas, compelling dances, and powerful words inspired by national parks and the places they preserve.
While in college, I studied abroad and briefly visited Iceland. Exploring the country’s southern border, I could see how artists and architects drew inspiration from the landscape; the structures, compositions, and art I encountered harmonized with the environment in a way I had never realized before. At the same time, Icelandic residents told me that global warming was rapidly changing their landscape. As one source of inspiration is lost, would another be able to take its place? I understood that this change to the landscape would in turn alter the artful expressions that are tied to it. Art is inseparable from the landscape in which it is made; drawing the view at Yosemite or Jökulsárlón is just one facet in a mutually sustaining exchange.
Upon graduating, I secured an Art in the Parks internship at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to continue learning about site-specific art. My first day, I started work on @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. As part of my experience with this exhibition I met thousands of people who had never been to Alcatraz before. Often they imagined the island as a stagnant attraction, a postcard from history, disconnected from the here and now. This exhibition drew them to the park and offered the opportunity for dialogue about freedom of expression, the nature of confinement, and the role of art in creating change. Alcatraz, a national park and former federal prison where both criminals and conscientious objectors were confined, offered the perfect place to foster this conversation. It revealed that a park is not just the trails or historic buildings but the transformative experiences individuals have while there. @Large demonstrated that the park is the perfect place to ask questions artfully and creatively; take in histories; meditate on the present, past, and the implications of the future. Art can expose what is right in front of us, what is often only visible through creative eyes.
For me, exhibitions like Home Land Security exemplify the unique potential that the combination of art and place has to help us understand one another and find our own expression. We hope this exhibition inspires you to talk, think, and wander through the history our park has preserved, and we invite you to seek other Art in the Parks experiences, both in the Bay Area and around the country. To learn more, visit parksconservancy.org/visit/art.
To learn more about art in national parks during the NPS’s centennial year, check out the short video series exploring the connections between art and parks from the perspectives of artist, youth, and park managers at parksconservancy.org/arts100.